Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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Hooked on Phonics

One thing that rapid typing for a weblog has taught me (aside from my ineligibility to pontificate on many topics on which I customarily pontificate) is that I spell phonetically. I know this because so often when typing quickly I end up putting the words down with the spelling as I hear the word rather than as the word is actually spelled. Case in point: in response to a comment yesterday, I typed "Balkin" rather than "Balkan", because my south Arkansas accent typically pronounces "Balkan" as "Balkin". When I looked up the true pronunciation of Balkan at, there was an odd ampersandish looking thing where the "a" is, so I am still not sure whether the sound is truly "eh" as I believe it to be, or some secret Slovenian inflection I've yet to master.

I also find that I spell frequently in homophones--words that are spelled entirely differently (and often have entirely different meanings), but which sound the same. Now that I think about it, it's curious that in grade school we spent a lot of time defining what homonyms and heteronyms are, but we never defined homophones. Maybe it was a case of homophonophobia.

I like that language Basic English. It's designed to be an easy language to teach English to non-native English speakers. It pares down so many of the extra nouns and verbs which haunt our language. Just imagine, for example, how books like The Bridges of Madison County would be rendered more readable if one just took out all those needless adjectives and adverbs. Basic English grammar is based almost entirely on active case sentences. This fellow named Ogden pared things down in 1930 or so to an initial list of 850 words, although some common "international" words such as "radio" expand the list out a good bit, depending on how much of a purist one is, and later additions further expanded the list. The passive case verbs largely got cleaved like meat at a barbeque establishment.

I have a Bible in Basic English, and curiously enough, it's one of my favorite translations of the Bible. Who needs peace to descend like a dove, when it can descend like a bird? Saint Paul, further, seems much more cheerful when you reduce his vocabulary by a few thousand words. Now that I think about it, I'll have to pull it and read Ecclesiastes again. I wonder if expressions of futility gain by their succinctness.

Maybe if I ever write another one of those November novels-finished-in-one-month again, I will write it in Basic English. This could have real advantages. When I am at a loss for a word, then I know I'll already have it narrowed down to one out of eight hundred fifty or so. I'll just have to glance down at the list.

I read articles in US News guides, during the economic boom, in the late 1990s, that PhDs in English, a traditional drug on the market, were hired in relatively great numbers to teach college freshmen basic rules of how to read and write. I once thought it would be fun to have a PhD in English, but that was because I wanted to teach literature, and pontificate on the higher things, like how much better read I was than my classes. I could have been really cool, like Viveca Lindfors in that old teen movie, The Sure Thing, except I don't know where I would have gotten the hip Swedish accent. That reminds me, though, of the geology professor I had in college, who taught a huge lecture class. He had an accent with a mild Scots ring to it, rather like a Scots Canadian. It was such a vaguely foreign and yet vague accent, I could not make out its origin. Finally, I asked one of the other professors in the department. It turned out the prof with the accent was from the Arkansas delta, perhaps the only part of Arkansas with an accent more afflicted with serious Heat of the Nightism than my own southern woodlands dialect. The Scots-ish professor was concerned that his academic career would be stunted by his accent, so he had taken diction classes. The result was that he sounded as though his Edinburgh great grandparents had settled in Manitoba, but it was not an un-pleasing effect. Now that I recall it, because in college I tried to pronounce words like "pen" with their dictionary pronunciation rather than as "pin", or "paeyin", I had a person or two ask me if I were Canadian. Perhaps when Arkansans learn grammar and pronunciation, they turn into Canadians.

When my wife took teacher training a short while ago, we were both intrigued that "correct grammar" has changed a few punctuation conventions and the like. I guess that times change. When I used to dream of teaching university, I thought that teaching grammar would be a real drag. Now I wonder--maybe grammar rules are one more arcane code I can learn--and then pontificate on. I might even have my own special grammar LJs--Homophone_prophet and grammar_madman. Or maybe not.

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