Monday, July 19, 2010

The declining (in every sense of the word) and pronunciation of English verbs

As light relief to all the serious things I usually write about, I am including below two amusing poems from an interesting book called The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher (Willliam Heinemann, 2005), which, as you would think, is all about the development of languages. These poems neatly encapsulate the difficulties we all have, English and foreigners alike, in spelling and pronouncing English. Having tried many times over the years, usually in vain, to help students with their spelling (a fast-disappearing skill with the appearance of Twitter and blogging), the poems made me laugh out loud.

The teacher claimed it was so plain,
I only had to use my brain.
She said the past of throw was threw,
The past of grow – of course – was grew,
So flew must be the past of fly,
And now, my boy, your turn to try.
But when I trew,
I had no clue,
If mow was mew
Like know and knew
(Or is it knowed
Like snow and snowed?)

The teacher frowned at me and said
The past of feed was – plainly – fed.
Fed up, I knew then what I ned:
I took a break, and out I snoke,
She shook and quook (or quaked? or quoke?)
With raging anger out she broke:
Your ignorance you want to hide?
Tell me the past form of collide!
But how on earth should I decide
If it’s collid
(Like hide and hid),
Or else – from all that I surmose,
The past of rise was simply rose,
And that of ride was surely rode,
So of collide must be collode?

Oh damn these English verbs, I thought
The whole thing absolutely stought!
Of English I have had enough,
These verbs of yours are far too tough.
Bolt upright in my chair I sat,
And said to her ‘that’s that’ – I quat.

(Guy Deutscher)

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough, and through?
Well done! And now you wish perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead –
For goodness sake, don’t call it ‘deed’.
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt):
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose-
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front, and word and sword
And do and go, and thwart and cart-
Come! Come! I’ve hardly made a start!

(From the Manchester Guardian, 1954)

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