3. Aeon: Typos, tricks and misprints
I love reading about the English language. I’ve always struggled to understand English. I couldn’t read until sixth grade, and spelling has always been an issue. I often slip between the American and British spellings of words with no real reason or consistency. With some words, like analogue or labour, the British spelling just makes more sense to me. But with others, such as realize or realise, I’ll sometimes flip between the spellings for no real reason at all (some of my editors detest this). I’ve researched part of the history as to why American and British spellings differ, but I hadn’t looked into the history of how spoken English developed its written counterpart.
Compared to other languages, English spelling is unpredictable and doesn’t have much of a system, if any at all. “Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. When you see an ough, you might need to read it out as ‘aw’ (thought), ‘ow’ (drought), ‘uff’ (tough), ‘off’ (cough), ‘oo’ (through), or ‘oh’ (though). The ea vowel is usually pronounced ‘ee’ (weak, please, seal, beam) but can also be ‘eh’ (bread, head, wealth, feather). Those two options cover most of it – except for a handful of cases, where it’s ‘ay’ (break, steak, great). Oh wait, one more… there’s earth. No wait, there’s also heart.” All of those differences are part of the reason it took me so long to figure out how to read and spell, and in this article, Sally Davies explores how “the answer to the weirdness of English has to do with the timing of technology. The rise of printing caught English at a moment when the norms linking spoken and written language were up for grabs, and so could be hijacked by diverse forces and imperatives that didn’t coordinate with each other, or cohere, or even have any distinct goals at all.”
I learned a lot from reading this piece, and especially enjoyed considering how current modes of digital technology have shaped and continue to shape languages.