Flying into Spokane today, I began to wonder why the name of the city is pronounced Spo-KAN rather than Spo-KAYN.
I mean, I flew into Spokane on a “plane,” not a “plan.”
A “pram” is a pram, but a flame is a “flame.”
The Fram presumably had a “frame,” but it shouldn’t be confused with one.
A person looking wan may have begun to wane, and you can, I suppose, break a windowpane with a pan, and Al may drink a lot of ale, and, when something goes “blam!” somebody may eventually get the blame, and . . . well, you get the idea.
“Can” becomes “cane” with the added “e.”
“Sam” is not the same as . . . well, “same.”
(Such things occupy my little mind.)
It reminded me of a well-known story about the great Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was a fervent advocate of English spelling reform.
Suppose, he said, that you were a very proficient foreign speaker of English who had, somehow, forgotten how to spell the word fish.
So you decide to sound it out.
First, you need a “fa” sound. Like the one in cough. So gh.
Next, you need an “ih” sound. As in women. Thus, gho.
To finish out the word fish, finally, you need a “shh” sound. As in nation.
Thus, ghoti. “Fish.”
To which some wit, somewhere, is supposed to have added yet another syllable:
Suppose, he said, you wanted to spell the word fisher.
You begin, of course, with Mr. Shaw’s ghoti. But now you need an “err” sound. As in colonel.
Hence, ghotiolo, or “fisher.”
Not, of course, to be confused with fissure.
Sometimes I wonder how any speaker of a foreign language is ever able to master English spelling, which is certifiably mad. And I’m guessing, though I’ve never actually researched the matter, that, unlike their English-speaking counterparts, school kids in Germany and Latin America and the Arab world—where spelling is pretty regular and there’s no chasm between writing and pronunciation—don’t have to waste hours each week studying spelling.
Written just north of Sandpoint, Idaho, on Friday, 22 March 2013.