This episode considers the English language and all of its irregularities and unpredictable rules for spelling.  At just under half an hour (the programme starts 0:03:25), this is easy listening for EN1040 students, describing a brief history of the language ranging from 6th Century AD to the present.

The original ‘Old English’ was an ‘extremely regular’ orthography.  Superimpose over this three layers of Germanic history, French romantic innovation and classical Latin orientation, and the result struggles to represent our naturalistically spoken sounds.  To quote Stephen Fry, the English language is ‘wearing the wrong trousers’. As linguists, our job is not to make pejorative judgments though, but to understand why the complexities of the English spelling system arose.

The questions raised in this programme: Is the complexity and irregularities of the English language damaging?  Could the spelling system ever be ‘straightened out’?

The alternatives considered here range from John Hart’s ‘An Orthographie’ (1969), Noah Webster’s American reform (Federal English) and George Bernard Shaw’s legacy, the Shavian alphabet.  Various contributors, including Professor David Crystal (Honorary Expert of Linguistics at the University of Wales), Jennifer Richards (Professor of Literature and Culture at Newcastle University) and Dr. Lynn Murphy (Reader in Linguistics at the University of Sussex) provide the motivations for change in each of these circumstances, as well as a basic description of the proposed reforms.

Tags: English Language, sociolinguistics, EN1040, language etymology, Old English, Germanic, Latin alphabet, John Hart, Noah Webster, Federal English, George Bernard Shaw, Shavian, Shavian Alphabet, language reform, reading and spelling.