English pronunciation is a mess, and so is the grammar

I’m such an anal-retentive freak that I enjoy finding errors in people’s pronunciation of English words. It’s no wild enthusiastic enjoyment or anything, it’s just something in my head that goes “click” and thinks “hey, that didn’t sound right”. Don’t worry, I’m not such a big cock that I go and correct people. And I don’t make any exceptions for myself, either. I’m not a native speaker, so I’m sure I make enough mistakes as well.

But I notice this especially well when two people try to find out how to pronounce one English word based on other words that are written similarly. That just won’t work. English is a cesspool, a wild, tangled mess of loan words from all over the world. You can’t guess the pronunciation of one word from another, you have to learn how to say each word when you learn the word itself. Just like in some of the darker and more unappealing areas of German.

Examples? No prob:

  1. Item vs. iteration. Both start with “ite-” and a following consonant. Yet the first is ai-tem (ˈaɪtəm), the second is iteray-shun (ˌɪtəˈreɪʃən).
  2. Forfeit vs. feign vs. feisty. All three have a “fei” element, but the first is for-fitt (ˈfɔrfɪt), the second fei-n (feɪn) and the third fai-sti (ˈfaɪsti).
  3. Miserable vs. miserly. Mis-, twice the same? Forget it. The first is mis-er-äbl (ˈmɪzərəbəl), the second is maiserli (ˈmaɪzərli).
  4. Hood vs. boot. Now those should really be pronounced the same — but they aren’t! It’s hud (hʊd) and buut (but). Add to this the problem of room, which in some dialects is shortened to rum and in others is ruum (rum vs. rʊm).
  5. .

That’s just the start. That doesn’t even lead you into grammar. Instead, I’ll let this rather cute and bookish dictionary editor explain what utter chaos English grammar can be:


So if you think there are any regularities in English, you’ll be so disappointed. Yes, there are some regular elements. But the more you learn about the language, the more irregularities you see, and the more German the whole thing might seem to you.

Thanks Tycho from Penny Arcade for the link.

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