Paradoxes of the English Language
Thread poster: Bryan Crumpler

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:24
Dutch to English
+ ...
Jul 15, 2010

A few years ago, a Yahoo! Answers user asked the following question:


If the singular of "lice" is "louse", then wouldn't the singular form of "rice" be "rouse"? Plus why isn't "the" plural [quotation marks added for clarity]


This was the response:


There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins were not invented in England nor french fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So, one moose, 2 meese? One index, two indices? Is cheese the plural of choose? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what language do people recite at a play, and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another? When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out and an alarm clock goes off by going on. When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this answer, I end it?

Ref: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070627180143AAuv9HV


Pretty amazing IMO.

Translation contest anyone?


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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 01:24
German to English
+ ...
the original question, though Jul 16, 2010

is pretty stupid. Rice isn't plural in the first place.

However, the answer is brilliant and just proves why English is first of all a wodnerful language to work with, and secondly (and say this as a teacher of English at an Austrian univ ersity) almost impossible to learn perfectly.


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Michal Berski  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:24
Polish to English
+ ...
Try to learn Polish Jul 16, 2010

David Wright wrote:

However, the answer is brilliant and just proves why English is first of all a wodnerful language to work with, and secondly (and say this as a teacher of English at an Austrian univ ersity) almost impossible to learn perfectly.


and you will find English pretty easy. Even concerning such simple matters as singular and plural forms:)


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Veronica Lupascu  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:24
Dutch to Romanian
+ ...
languages Jul 16, 2010

David Wright wrote:

However, the answer is brilliant and just proves why English is first of all a wodnerful language to work with, and secondly (and say this as a teacher of English at an Austrian univ ersity) almost impossible to learn perfectly.


All languages have their weird parts, which are difficult to be taught and understood by foreigners. English has many of them, because it is spoken by a big number of people and people make the languages. Anyway, English is easy to learn (I don't say perfectly), because its grammar rules are simple and there are really few exceptions (like in the examples above with plural forms), when compared to other languages.

Then, there are examples with English idioms. I like idioms, because they will be never translated properly by translation machines and they maintain our profession But again, every language has them and sometimes they are odd and one could ask himself who could ever think of such structures. So, let's admit that languages are a big mess (an interesting one) and only a small part of a language can be set under a certain number of [grammar] rules. This is why translators are needed

As about Polish, I agree I started learning it for fun, and stopped after only three lessons


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:24
English to Croatian
+ ...
The answer. Jul 16, 2010

The answer given plays up with the most difficult aspect of English to non-native speakers - phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms:

"running nose and put out the lights", for example.

Phrasal verbs are very interesting and probably the most convincing way of distinguishing non-natives from natives. Natives tend to create a completely new phrasal verb spontaneously, in a second. You will rarely hear it from a nonnative speaker. Also, nonnatives use phrasal verbs far less frequently.

The grammatical number aspect/ sing and pl/ is probably the simplest aspect of English. No plural suffixes, not to mention a combination of case and number suffixes. Yes, there are a few irregular forms, but that's nothing comparing to case/number/gender based languages.


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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:24
English
+ ...
And then there's.... Jul 16, 2010

...The Chaos by Dr Gerard Nolst Trenité:


Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation
I shall teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I shall keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy,
Tear in eye your hair you'll tear,
Queer fair seer, hear my prayer!
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter, how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade;
Say, said, pay, paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague.
But be careful how you speak,
Say gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak;
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Recipe, pipe, studding sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low;
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, ailes,
Exiles, similes, reviles,
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining;
Scholar, vicar and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal and canal
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it".
But is it not hard to tell
Why it's pal, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, goal, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion;
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Ivy, privy, famous. Clamour
Has the "a" of drachm and hammer.
Fussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, dessert, address
From desire - desirable, admirable from admire;
Lumber, plumber, bier but brier/briar;
Chatham, brougham, renown but known,
Knowledge, gone, but done and tone!
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading (the town), heathen, Heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, mirth, plinth!
Billet does not end like ballet,
Wallet, mallet, bouquet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like good,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Bouquet is not nearly parquet,
Which most often rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad;
Forward, toward, but reward.
Ricochet, croqueting, croquet.
Right! Your pronunciation's okay.
Sounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Don't forget: It's heave but heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven
We say, hallow, but allow,
People, leopard, tow and vow.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between, mover, plover, Dover!
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice.
Shoes, goes, does; now first say "finger";
Then say "singer, ginger, linger".
Real, seal; mauve, gauze and gauge.
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth/loath;
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Say "oppugnant" but "oppugns";
Sowing, bowing. Banjo tunes
Sound in yachts or in canoes.
Puisne, truism, use, to use.
Though the difference seems little,
Do say "actual" but "victual".
Seat, sweat, earn; Leigh, light and height,
Put, pus, granite and unite.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffor, Kaffir, zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull; Geoffrey, late and eight,
Hint but pint, senate, sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas (the state),
Balsam, almond. You want more?
Golf, wolf; countenance; lieutenants
Host in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier; tomb, bomb, comb;
Cow but Cowper, some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither devour with clangour.
Soul but foul, and gaunt but aunt;
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close but close,
Paradise, rise, rose and dose.
Say inveigh, neigh, and inveigle
make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Serpentine and magazine.
And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say manifold like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel! Pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure-trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove.
Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw
Lien, phthisis, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don't be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet - buffet!
Brook, stood, rook, school, wool and stool,
Worcester, Boleyn, foul and ghoul.
With an accent pure and sterling
You say year, but some say yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint -
Mind the "z"! (a gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such words as I don't mention:
Words like pores, pause, pours and paws
Rhyming with the pronoun "yours".
Proper names are not included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny names like Glamis and Vaughan,
Ingestre, Tintagel, Strachan.
Nor, my maiden fair and comely,
Do I want to speak of Cholmondeley
Or of Froude (compared with proud
It's no better than Macleod).
Sea, idea, Guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Sally with ally. Yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, hey, quay.
Say aver but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess, it is not safe;
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device and eyrie,
Face, but preface and grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass,
Bass (the fish); gin, give and verging,
Ought, oust, joust, scour and scourging.
Ear but earn. Mind! Wear and tear
Do not rhyme with "here" but "ear".
Row, row, sow, sow, bow, bow, bough;
Crow but brow. Please, tell me now:
What's a slough and what's a slough?
(Make these rhyme with "cuff" and "cow").
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen.
Monkey, donkey, clerk but jerk;
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
Say serene but sirene. Psyche
must be made to rhyme with "spiky".
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones like whoop and gunwale,
Islington, but Isle of Wight,
Houswife, verdict but indict -
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying gather, bather, lather?
Tell me, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, cough, lough or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup" -
My advice is - give it up.




Which just happens to remind me of this:

What's Up?

There is a two letter word that perhaps has more meaning than any other two letter word it's UP. It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we waken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, wewarm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special, and this is confusing. A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP. To be knowledgeable of the proper uses of UP, look UP the word in the dictionary. In a desk size dictionary, UP takes UP almost 1/4th the page and definitions add UP to about thirty. If you are UP to it, you might trybuilding UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When it doesn't rain for a while, things dry UP. One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP, so I'll shut UP.


Both of these, and more at: http://www.theinterpretersfriend.org/misc/humr/eng.html

There are videos of The Chaos on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1spqX4sIDo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb0wo2D2heQ (A slower version for ESL students)




How could I forget this? It's on my ProZ profile personal tab...

Werse Verse
(by Bennett Cerf)

The wind was rough
And cold and blough.
She kept her hands inside her mough.
It chilled her through,
Her nose turned blough,
And still the squall the faster flough
And yet, although there was no snough,
The weather was a cruel fough.
It made her cough,
Please do not scough,
She coughed until her hat blough ough.


[Edited at 2010-07-16 09:12 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-07-16 19:31 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:24
English to Croatian
+ ...
The ( phrasal) particle UP Jul 16, 2010

Yes, this is exactly what I was referring to when talking about phrasal verbs. You add "up" to a verb and you get a whole new meaning. Not to mention that these phrasal verbs seem to grow progressively each day, much faster than they can be implemented into a good dictionary.

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Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:24
English to Czech
+ ...
:) Jul 16, 2010

If we pronounce "gh" as "f" in "enough", why don't we write "ghish" instead of "fish"?

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:24
English to Croatian
+ ...
: ) Jul 16, 2010

Stanislav Pokorny wrote:

If we pronounce "gh" as "f" in "enough", why don't we write "ghish" instead of "fish"?


I've met some Nepalese people who pronounce fish as pish. I think they don't have the phoneme F in their native language. Perhaps some Nepalese colleagues could confirm this.


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Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 21:24
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Ghoti Jul 16, 2010

Another interesting aspect, according to G B Shaw, is that "fish" could be spelt "GHOTI", as follows:

GH as in enouGH
O as in wOmen
TI as in naTIon

In my blog I have addressed the issue of why English spelling is so difficult:

http://paul-translator.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-is-english-spelling-so-difficult.html


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Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:24
English to Czech
+ ...
:) Jul 16, 2010

Heh, "ghoti" is even worse.

From your blog:
How could English spelling be improved? My first suggestion would be to introduce the strešica into English (it’s that downward hook over the second s), which would largely eliminate digraphs: ch = č, sh = š, zh (as in “pleasure”) = ž. So we would have čerč (church), serč (search) and šip (ship), for example. Other diacritics could also be used to distinguish between vowel sounds: for example, “a” as in “cat” would be “a”, but “a” as in “gate” could be “ā”.


This has worked perfectly in Czech for centuries.

[Upraveno: 2010-07-16 13:45 GMT]


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Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:24
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Phonics Jul 16, 2010

Stanislav Pokorny wrote:

Heh, "ghoti" is even worse.

From your blog:
How could English spelling be improved? My first suggestion would be to introduce the strešica into English (it’s that downward hook over the second s), which would largely eliminate digraphs: ch = č, sh = š, zh (as in “pleasure”) = ž. So we would have čerč (church), serč (search) and šip (ship), for example. Other diacritics could also be used to distinguish between vowel sounds: for example, “a” as in “cat” would be “a”, but “a” as in “gate” could be “ā”.


This has worked perfectly in Czech for centuries.

[Upraveno: 2010-07-16 13:45 GMT]


Actually, we have these types of symbols in English, but we only use them when we learn phonics in elementary school in our Language Arts classes. We do not carry over phonetics into writing after the 3rd grade, because ... by that time, you are acquainted with the order of the alphabet, how to at least initially spell a word, and then use a dictionary for the rest - which invariably has those same phonetics we learn to understand the pronunciation. This is the basis for learning to read and was also the basis behind the program "Hooked on Phonics".

I would gather that many people have difficulty with English spellings because of the fact that their initial exposure is to the spoken language; yet, more often than not, non-native speakers attempt to relate those sounds to phonetic systems in their own language -- which are clearly different. Otherwise, it happens in the reverse -- as in, they learn to read & write very well; but, when speaking, they have a marked accent due to this lack of initial understanding of the phonics of the language.

[Edited at 2010-07-16 14:30 GMT]


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