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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories discusses...

Naitmeirz on Speling Street

by Don Webb

Proofreading never ends.
— a Bewildering Stories official motto

How best to proofread? There are a number of ways, all good within limits:

One of our veteran contributors can’t read his own texts; he’s almost completely blind. He listens to them and to Bewildering Stories as a whole by using text vocalizing software.

In fact, he’s already helped me out by “proof-listening.” He reported two spelling errors I’d made on a departmental page. I thanked him profusely and ruefully observed that I might follow his example. But in view of time constraints, listening on a large scale is best done as a team effort.

Nightmare Woods (on Speling Street)
by Richard Ong

English spelling is a nightmare. It’s so riddled with inconsistencies, archaisms and homophones that it has become something of a laughingstock. How to spell a word pronounced [nait]: “knight,” “night,” or “nite’’? Is [tu] “to,” “too” or “two”? Is [bai] “by,” “buy,” or “bye”? And so on, far into the [nait].

(Almost all the International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions in this article are approximate, to make the typography easier.)

Italian and Spanish were streamlined by spelling reforms in the Renaissance. English spelling has evolved haphazardly. In French, spelling reform was never possible; too many homophones. Today, if you see a new word in French and know the rules, you automatically know how to pronounce it. If you only hear a new word, you have almost no chance of spelling it correctly.

Our friend who uses text vocalizing software asks about problems with archaisms, particularly words that have mute “h.”

Mute “h” occurs in several words, for example: “an honor” (or “an honour”), “an hour,” “an honest person,” “an herb,” “an heir,” and even “vehicle.” But our friend heard “an hotel” in an audio book. Shouldn’t it be “a hotel”?

All those words were borrowed from French, which has no aspirate “h” in its phonetics. French had borrowed those words, in turn, from Greek or Latin, which did have aspirate “h.” Thus, histoire was originally pronounced [istwɛr] and, today, [istwar], but never with [h]. French kept the “h” in spelling for the sake of etymology, to make the words recognizable to readers.

Since “hotel” comes from hôtel, “an hotel” was originally correct, because it imitated the French pronunciation. But English pronunciation tends to follow spelling. Since “hotel” is not a high-frequency word, we now say and write “a hotel.”

Likewise, “history” acquired an aspirate “h” as well as anglicized vowels, hence “a history.” But, our friend asks, what about its derivatives? Do we say “a historical novel” or “an historical novel”? Answer: It’s optional, take your pick. But “a historical novel” will eventually become standard by analogy with the pronunciation of its parent word, “history.”

Now, can your computer keep track of all that, not to mention all the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation, such as “good food”? If so, you’ll have some darn good text-vocalizing software. Put it to good use!

Wait... is “use” pronounced [jus] or [juz]? A computer can’t tell by the spelling alone. The pronunciation depends on the function of “use”: is it a noun or a verb?

Az Ai sed, Inglish speling iz a naitmeir. If wee madrnaizd it, wee koud pronauns it, but wee koudnt reed it.


Responses welcome!

date Copyright August 21, 2017 by Bewildering Stories

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