Wednesday, February 06, 2019

a fun linguistic romp

Listen to this presentation as the English in it morphs from normal to barely recognizable. I recall reading an essay, decades ago, that did something similar for the printed word; maybe it was a GB Shaw piece. Anyway, this was fun to listen to. As the English changed, it evoked Old English, Celtic, Gaelic, and maybe something Scandinavian. The presenter concentrates on the consistency of English vowels; imagine if he had added consonants.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Fun, indeed, and I agree about the Old English similarities. I think those similarities, though, point to a fundamental misconception perpetuated by this video--namely, the conflation of spoken and written language.

The various dialects of English, as they are spoken, are in fact perfectly consistent in how the vowels are pronounced--there just happen to be far more vowel sounds than we have letters to represent them. The alphabet was never intended to be a perfect phonetic representation of the spoken language. And even if it were, which dialect would we be representing? Would we have to come up with different writing systems for each dialect?

This issue is more obvious in Korean, which does have an ostensibly phonetic writing system that still is merely a written representation of the language and not necessarily reflective of how people from the various regions pronounce the spoken language. Even in Seoul, nobody pronounces the "의" in 나의 친구, and younger speakers of the language make little phonetic distinction between 외, 왜, and 웨. (And if I had a dime for every Korean who told me that they speak "한글," or that Korean is a "highly scientific language," they would have to mint more dimes.)

So, while it is definitely amusing, what it really shows is that spoken and written language are not, and in a practical sense cannot ever be, the same thing.

(Sorry about that. The relationship between spoken and written language is something I've done way too much research on, so it always bugs me when I see people conflating the two.)