May 21, 2019

Horse 2548 - To Defeat Noah Webster, I Must Become Noah Webster - Silence The Silent E

One of my enemies in history for the most pettiest of reasons is Noah Webster. The reason why this rogue has gained my ire is that this prize knave decided to deliberately muck with the English Language by first publishing his 'Blue Backed Speller" and then his dictionary; which is the primary root cause of why American English is spelled differently to proper English English as determined by the clever dicks at Oxford who know all that's to be known.
Webster's dictionary was openly designed as 'a new language for a new people' which explains why he was openly prescriptive about how words should be spelled, as opposed to the Oxford English Dictionary when it finally came along which was supposed to be a description of 'English how she is spoken'. I think that if you are going to invent a dictionary then defining words how they are actually used is more useful to the reader than trying to impose a set of rules upon them, as English is already a vulture of a language which steals from everywhere and is constantly vomiting up new usages and abusages¹.

One of Webster's crimes (or triumphs depending on your point of view) was that he changed a lot of the spelling of words because he wanted more uniform rules. He saw the sometimes labyrinthine avenues of the English language and quite rightly judged that it was often stupid and confusing. The reason why he is my very petty enemy is because his shadow still casts long over things like word processors and autocorrect today and as a speaker of that unruly child, Australian English, my text is often either shown up with red wiggly lines or worse, autocorrected.
Moreover, he is my petty enemy of history because I am like him.

Today's annoyance comes from having just watched a television series from Germany. If there's one thing that you can say about the German people, it is that they confirm our stereotypes about them with ruthless efficiency. If you want a system designed or a thing to be built, which works properly and efficiently, get the Germans to build it. Including when the Germans are cheating, such as in Volkswagen's emissions scandal, they do so having meticulously thought about the problem and designed a very fine system.
The same is also true of the German Language. They may retain the idiocy of assigning gender to things but when it comes to grammar and spelling, they are the über example.

English has this almost unnecessary quirk of the silent e. We have accepted this in English because we are resigned to living with this unruly child and we know that it takes colossal shifts to change it. I would like to have English steal the umlaut from German because it neatly solves one of my annoyances with English.
Words that would be improved include, läk, bïk, vacüm, lëk, fäc, döm, höm, and myriad more. Yes, I will readily admit that they all look scary and strange but as spelling reform has worked in other countries (I am also thinking of Germany here) then we already have proof that this uneasiness dissipates. Actually, we already have proof of this in the English language because that's exactly what Noah Webster decided to do.

I had to write an email last week to someone who told me that their name was spelled like I thought it was. The problem was that I had no idea how to spell their name. I tried 'Leak' but that failed. I tried 'Leek' and that also failed. I tried 'Leke' and 'Leake' and both of them also failed. Eventually I had to phone them because their correspondence to us only contained their first name. Their surname and hence how their email address was derived was 'Leike'.
All of this could have been solved if their name was Lëk because there wouldn't have been any confusion on my part. What made this even more annoying was that they said that it was their little joke. I can only assume that little referred to how unfunny it was².

The Germans' use of the umlaut is a brilliant example of how to solve a problem elegantly. English clumsily assigns a bunch of vowel sounds to only five glyphs, which is not only unfair on the poor wee ickle things but is very confusing for the users of the language. I might lament the stream of hideously poor spelling in emails (especially from law firms who I would expect to have a better standard of English than the great uncountable masses) but this is tempered by the fact that I feel some sympathy for people who are bad at spelling because English is often without good reason for spelling things in the way that it does.
There's no good reason why 'mat' and 'mar' have different a-sounds and yet we're making the a work very hard.
I find it as likely as holding an ice hockey match upon the surface of the sun that we're ever going to do anything about the problem and so my expectations are exactly nil but even so, I can hope can't I? While I'm at it, can I put in an order for the letters thorn, eth, yvern, aesh and check to be put back in the English Language? If that's not possible, can we have umlauts instead of this strange relic of silent e?

¹Such as right there. One of the delights of the English language is that you can invent new words very easily and have them instantly accepted. I have never seen the word "abusages' before but you and I and everyone can instantly know what it means.
²I am not just Mayor of Unfunny Town, I have created an entire city-state of unfunniness. I am King Unfunny.

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