Spelling Reform 2: An Axe/Ax to Grind #SpellingReform

Introduction

Fax, lax, max, pax, sax, tax, wax. Furthermore, box, cox, fox, lox, Knox, pox. Additionally, hex, mix, nix, tex, tux. Therefore, ax.

What?

Okay, the slightly less abridged version.

How should we spell ax/axe? The American way (ax) or British (axe) way?

The Bases of Spelling

People often think that spelling is just based on deep principles of phonemicity. However, it is actually (at least in the case of English) based on a combination of phonemicity, etymology, and, significantly, analogy.

On phonemic grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the word rhymes with tax, not aches.

On etymological grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the Old English form was æx, and the word has never ended in a “e” sound — or that of any other vowel for that matter.

On analogical grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. You can clearly see this from the list of words I began this article with.

Indeed, axe didn’t even really get popular until the nineteenth century, and then not in America. So it doesn’t even have vintage calibre. In fact, axe is such a mental spelling, that even the Oxford English Dictionary condemns it.

The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe

The Curious Case of the Three Letter Rule

The only reason to keep that e in axe is in order to maintain the curious “three letter” rule, which is in fact more of a tendency than a hard-and-fast rule. This “rules” refers to a word requiring a minimum of three letters unless it is a grammatical word. That is why we write “add” instead of “ad” (compare: bad, not *badd), bye but by, too not to, and so on. The first items of each pair, unlike the second, are non-function words.

However, the <e> is still superfluous if we wish to follow the three letter rule! For the purposes of spelling, “x” is counted as if it were two letters, not one. That’s right. For example, we write taxed, not taxxed, whereas we do write mapped from map; there is no need to double the letter <x> in order to maintain the “short” vowel pronunciation when an affix is added, because <x> functions as if it were two letters. Basically, <x> is what we could call a “compound letter”.

Additionally, as mentioned, this famed Three Letter Rule is more of a tendency. There are many cases where it doesn’t hold. For example, ox. Despite the plural even being oxen(!), we neglect to put the final <e> in the singular.

In Conclusion…

Therefore, as much as it breaks my patriotic heart, axe needs to be binned in favour of ax.

But don’t for one second, dear Americans, sit back smugly and assume that your spellings are superior. Very often, they aren’t. More on that in a later post.

References

“axe | ax, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

© 2015-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Spelling Reform 1: Program(me) #SpellingReform

In the UK we use the spelling programme, whereas in the US they use program. Which is better?

It’s not this straight-forward. The spelling program is used in the UK in the computer sense. Furthermore, program in all senses is becoming more prevalent in Australia, so much so that programme is now marginal and not favoured by the media or official sources. Canada only uses program and New Zealand more-or-less follows British usage: program for computing, programme for everything else.

So proud British and Commonwealth citizens should stand up and fight for our programme? Not quite.

Firstly, nationalist pride has nothing to do with how good the spelling is.

Secondly, programme isn’t that British in any case.

The Greek word γραμμα ‘gramma’ is regularly borrowed into English as gram: anagram, chronogram, cryptogram, diagram, epigram, hexagram, ideogram, kilogram, logogram, monogram, pentagram, telegram. Therefore, programme is irregular and goes against all analogy.

The word was originally borrowed into English, in the UK, as program. It largely kept that spelling in Scotland, even after senses of the word got borrowed from the French form of the word programme. Even in England, the spelling program was dominant up till the early nineteenth century; it wasn’t fully ousted till the late nineteenth century. Such English luminaries as Henry Sweet can be seen using it as late as 1892:

A less ambitious program would further allow of greater thoroughness within its narrower limits.

H. Sweet New Eng. Gram. Pref. 9

Therefore, program is the original and “true” British spelling.

And on phonemic grounds, –am is infinitely more justifiable than –amme. Compare: clam, cram, dram, flim-flam, glam, ham, jam, lam, mam, Pam, pram, sam, slam, tram, and of course, gram.

In conclusion, the case for program is overwhelming, the case against boils down to two things: the first, a sound but hardly convincing argument; the second, a non-argument. First, is there any other way to pronounce the spelling “programme”? Probably not. So why bother respelling it? It would seem a lot of effort for little-to-no gain (However, there is a case that the French -mme ending might imply a syllable final stress). Second, a factually inaccurately-grounded show of support in favour of the UK and British-associated practices is not a sound basis for spelling.

For what it is worth, I am a very homeland-loving kind of fellow, yet no matter how it smarts my British pride, program really is the only justifiable spelling. Therefore, I adopt it.

References:
“programme | program, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

Program vs. programme

© 2016-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Europe is to EU as European is to ?Europan?

I always make the point that the EU and Europe are not same thing, and how I love Europe, but hate the EU. You can disagree with me on whether the EU is something hateworthy or something praiseworthy, but you cannot disagree with me on this pedantic linguistic point, that the European Union, a political project consisting of many European nations, is not the same thing as Europe, a geographical and cultural area. 

Okay, fine, we can distinguish between “the EU” and “Europe”. But what of the adjective? For both it is “European”. This is clearly a defect of the language. And I think this lies at the root of some of the misunderstandings around Brexit as we confusingly mix the terms for these two concepts. Think of the term “Eurosceptic”; this doesn’t mean sceptical of Europe (or even of the euro), but of the EU.

I think we need to distinguish an adjective referring to the EU versus the usual one, “European”, which refers to the cultural-geographic area (namely, the continent itself). Why? Or else we could end up with an “American”-type situation again where English lacks a word like “United Statesian”, which many languages have (e.g. Spanish “estadounidense”).

I suggest “European” (of Europe, for the cultural-geographic area, that is, the continent itself) and “Europan” or “Europian” (of the EU). These words derived from “Europa”. They should be stressed on the second syllable. I sometimes use “E.U.pean” to make the distinction I am making clearer, but I don’t think that that is a good, long-term, non-derisory word.

I prefer “Europan” as it has a more distinct pronunciation to “European” than does “Europian”.

After thought

Incidentally, I’ve long since thought that one day, we will have EU citizens who are not citizens of their own country + the EU (which is what happens now), but citizens only of the EU if they so choose. Look how many British people wished to keep their “European”, i.e., Europan, citizenship after Brexit; it’s not possible as the EU citizenship hinges on your national citizenship. But I don’t see this situation continuing. This makes my Europan/Europian word all the more needed.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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New Year’s Resolutions 2020 #NewYearsResolutions2020

As a world-weary late adolescent, I gave up on making new year’s resolutions, mainly because you/I never follow through on them properly. Therefore, it felt like lying to myself to even bother making them at all. Then, in my late twenties, I started making them again because, ya know, fear of impending middle age and failure and all that. But, yeah, once again, my resolutions were somewhat incomplete. So I gave up again for a year or two (2018 and 2019).

But now I’ve got my resolution mojo back! What I’ve learnt from the mountain of failures in my life is this: I think the key to making successful resolutions is (1) to make them achievable (i.e. “SMART“) goals, (2) make very few goals, but make them important ones, as quality is better than quantity.

With that in mind.

  • GOAL ONE*: get down to my wedding weight (2013), which was pretty healthy, by the 31st of December 2020. That is, 14st 5lb (201lb, c. 91kg).
  • GOAL TWO: achieve B2 level in Spanish; if timetables allow it, I’ll also successfully take a B2 DELE (official Spanish exam).

I have other things I want to achieve, as well, but I think I need to keep things SMART and achievable.

Both goals are very achievable. GOAL ONE, the weight goal, is roughly a pound of weight loss a week for the whole year, or 4-5 pounds a month. Extremely achievable. A healthy weight loss is 2-3 lbs, no problem. GOAL TWO, the language goal, is also highly achievable as I am already B2 for some skills in Spanish and B1 or B1+ for others. I just need to set aside certain hours a week as part of a routine and then stick to it; I’m not starting from nought here!

Both goals are immensely achievable, especially if I start right away and take the tortoise slow-but-steady approach. But there’s another component to achieving goals; they need to be things that you really, really want. A lot. And I do.

See you this time next year for Groundhog Day! ;-D

*all caps is the electronic equivalent of carving it in stone, doncha know.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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YouTube Video: University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English #VolunteersNeeded #HelpPlease

Link to the Study.

© 2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English: Participant Informed Consent Form

To take part in this study, it’s necessary to sign the Informed Consent Form. It can be downloaded in .doc (click here) and .pdf (click here) formats.

University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English: Participant Personal Information

Participant Personal Information Form

 

Name:

 

Date of Birth:                      (day/month/year)

 

Gender:           MALE/FEMALE/OTHER (please specify)

 

Nationality:

 

Region of origin within UK:

 

Did you spend your childhood (ages 4 – 15) living in the United Kingdom?       YES/NO

 

Occupation:

 

What is your ethnic group?

White

ENGLISH, WELSH, SCOTTISH, NORTHERN IRISH, OR BRITISH
IRISH
GYPSY OR IRISH TRAVELLER
ANY OTHER WHITE BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

Mixed/multiple ethnic groups

WHITE AND CARIBBEAN
WHITE AND AFRICAN
WHITE AND ASIAN
ANY OTHER MIXED OR MULTIPLE ETHNIC BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

Asian/Asian British

INDIAN
PAKISTANI
BANGLADESHI
CHINESE
ANY OTHER ASIAN BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

African/Caribbean/Black/Black British

CARIBBEAN
AFRICAN
BLACK BRITISH
ANY OTHER AFRICAN, CARIBBEAN OR BLACK BRITISH BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

Other ethnic group

ARAB
ANY OTHER ATHNIC GROUP, WRITE IN:

University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English: Participant Script

Participant Script

Below are nineteen short passages. Please read them through a couple of times to yourself so that you are familiar with them. Then, please record yourself reading them out aloud. Please take a few moments between saying each passage. Try to read the passages as naturally as possible; do not try to “perform” the passages. Use your own natural talking speed; do not read the passages quickly or slowly. You can send your recording to Bryan.Parry.16@ucl.ac.uk. 

 

  1. The garage is one kilometre away.

 

  1. You’re very rude. Don’t patronise me!

 

  1. I’ve been singing that tune all week.

 

  1. The Caribbean is incomparable! Have you been?

 

  1. Hong Kong and Pakistan are both in Asia.

 

  1. The tennis player hit the spectator with a racket.

 

  1. It’s ordinary to harass politicians, but it’s not right.

 

  1. We will research the increase in the native falcon population.

 

  1. The refund policy is only applicable if you still have the receipt.

 

  1. Cate Blanchett was President of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Jury in 2018.

 

  1. I have great recall, but I can’t recall when I began to patronise this restaurant.

 

  1. I hope I rebound from my sickness in time to see them baptize my grandson.

 

  1. Her boyfriend left her and straight away she got with someone else on the rebound.

 

  1. I will dictate the words in English. You must translate them into either Spanish or French.

 

  1. New research shows that smoking one cigarette a day can increase the risk of birth defects.

 

  1. The translator cannot schedule me in for this week, but her schedule is more open next week.

 

  1. Digital currencies, like Bitcoin, are still a niche market and the regulatory framework is not fully developed.

 

  1. There was controversy in 1982 when the Soviet hockey player, Alexander Mogilny, wanted to defect to the United States.

 

  1. Hundreds of people are gathering to protest the visit of the President. One protester called the President a “dictator”. This protest is the biggest since 1972.

Neologism: Parchment Contract

So, me and some workmates were talking about older work contracts today and how people on older contracts have much better terms and conditions than people on new contracts. It’s like, it gets progressively worse over the last thirty years. Seems to be common across organisations. Anyway, I said,  ‘Of course so-and-so was entitled to such-and-such a benefit; their contract is so old it’s written on parchment’. And then I was, okay, “parchment contracts”.

So there we are, I offer my nonce word up as a useful new word:

parchment contract n. phr. an older contract with preferential terms and conditions and pay, specifically used in bitter reference to how such contracts are now ancient, long-forgotten, history, and never likely to return.

© 2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Pacifist Peas #ESOL

In my first ever post on this blog, I talked about how I teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). I mentioned a then-recent student who, when I would say “I’ve got an ear-ache”, would say it back to me as, “I vee be gooser you-near-eck”. ESOL teachers get this kind of random nonsense a lot; it’s our job, after all. But I got another one yesterday which will surely live long in the memory.

A student comes up to me after class and says, “Sir*, can you please tell us more about pacifist peas in the next class?”

“Pacifist peas?”
“Yes, pacifist peas”
“Erm… what?”
“Pacifist peas, Sir”
“What are pacifist peas?”
“Pacifist peas. Y’know… pacifist peas
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying. Can you say it again, please?”
“Pacifist peas”
“Pacifist peas?”
(nods) “Pacifist peas”
“Err…”
(incredulously) “You don’t know what pacifist peas are!? You’re a teacher!”
“I’m really sorry, but I think it’s the way you’re saying it. Can you say it more slowly?”
“Okay, Sir. Pacifist. Peas**”
“I’m really not getting this mate”
“Sir!? Verbs, nouns, prepositions…”

My brain starts ticking over.

“Ahh! Parts of speech!
“Yes! Pacifist peas”
“Say ‘speech'”
“Iss peas”
“Okay”

Cue a long heart-to-heart with me trying to reassure him that his English isn’t that bad and making mistakes is a vital part of the learning process. And look, look how many mistakes you’ve made; you’ll be fluent in no time(!)

So what does this tale tell us? Firstly, that teaching ESOL can be good banter. Secondly, that all language is context-dependent. In summary: I would definitely recommend a career in ESOL to anyone who has the following unique mix of traits: loves helping people, is up for a laugh, wants to travel the world, is fascinated by language and communication, profoundly enjoys poverty.

*I teach a lot of Asian guys, and they tend to be very deferential even when you act all cool-teacher and say, “Call me ‘Bry’!”. Their answer is, of course, “Okay, Sir”. The best I can get out of a lot of these guys is, “Mr Bryan”, which is always a laugh. Of course, you never force students to do anything they aren’t comfortable with. You tell them that in England it is normal for adult learners to address their teacher by their first name, but that whatever makes them happy will make me happy. Sage nod, “Yes, Sir”.

**Once you’ve read the punchline, the perceptive among you might think I’m lying. After all, he should surely have said, “Pasif. Iss-peas”, when he spoke slowly, but actually he kind of slurred so it really did sound like, “Pacifist …ehhhs… peas”. So that’s the third thing this tale tells us: BRYAN NEVER LIES! x-(

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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