Posts Tagged ‘language’

Spelling: A Test of Communications

March 25, 2010

The Twitter Spelling Test

Quiz created by Oatmeal

I took the “Twitter Spelling Test” that came to me through a link that Marc Parent (@mparent77772) re-tweeted from another Tweep.  The spelling test consisted of 20 questions, consisting of words that amounted to just a handful of the most misspelled words in the English language.  I took the test and answered all 20 questions correctly.

That made me wonder about a particular group of people who I don’t really identify with: linguistic purists.  People classified as such are very pedantic about the spelling and grammar of themselves as well as others  They are quick to point out others’ mistakes and fix their own, downplaying the latter as though it never happened.  These people have strong language skills and may have gone to college.  While their true calling is along the lines of author, journalist, or editor, their encounters with the less educated in the blogosphere, Craigslist, or Twitter are often contentious.  In short, they maintain what they perceive is standard language.

Why is linguistic purism ultimately a lost cause?  Language evolution is an unstoppable process, especially as a culture develops and must give new words to the developments, discoveries, and inventions therein.  This aspect of language evolution involves vocabulary.  Grammar changes over time, as well.  A millennium ago, for example, English was much more inflected, in the same way that standard German is today.  Even the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, written in Middle English, would be rife with what a modern spell checker would consider spelling mistakes.

Are the spelling errors of today going to become the correct way to spell the words in the future?  Not likely, especially with language standardization.  However, spelling tests should make people more aware of spelling standards where they live.  (The spelling test was careful not to include “regionalisms“.)  Poor spelling in one’s Tweet, essay, or blog does, after all, amount to communicating poorly.  Unfortunately, we continue to accept the excuse that “[they] got [their] point across” or “You know what I mean”.  Since poor spelling is poor communications, when are you going to start telling people, “No, I don’t know what you mean.  Please make the following spelling corrections”?

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Francis M. Unson

Why is English a difficult language?

January 26, 2010

Why does much of the world perceive English as a difficult language?  Some reasons include:

  • The large number of consonants and vowels in English’s sound bank
  • Irregularities in diphthongs
  • (In)definite article usage
  • Irregularities in verb forms
  • Irregularities in spelling overall

Of course, as a native of the United States, I grew up hearing and learning English all my life.  The difficulties in learning English are usually highlighted by people from non-English speaking countries that learn English as a foreign language.  The inconsistencies in English, therefore, are probably what make English a difficult language to learn, with a litany of “exceptions to the rules” to learned along the way.

Most languages of the world do not have the same sound banks as each other, even languages that are in the same family.  Foreigners learning English have a tendency to use the sound bank or fall back on grammar rules of their native language, resulting in a tendency to make the same types of errors.  Read more

If you would like to tackle a poem that reveals the difficulties in learning the English language, go here.

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Francis M. Unson