Monday, February 13, 2012

Response - Anne Trubek

After reading the article, I was stunned to see the comments made about the issue. I agreed with Trubek and I enjoyed her witty writing and found her remarks extremely hilarious and oh so true. But to my surprise, the comments below were unbelievably angry and Anne Trubek was basically slaughtered in them. Scrolling down the comments, I did finally find some positive feedback but the majority of the comments were downright mad and blaming Trubek for being ridiculous and a bad teacher. I could not disagree more. I was stunned by the negativity and I felt like I had read an entirely different text judging by the angry mob invading the commentary section.

Setting aside the debate whether Anne Trubek is a nutcase or a genious, the article discussed something that I, as a linguist and studying the English language from an outsider's perspective, am extremely fascinated about: the discrepancy between the pronunciation and spelling in English.

As a comparison, in the Finnish language every single letter is pronounced the same, regardless of their position in the word or other sounds(/letters) surrounding the sound in question. In Spanish, the situation is almost the same, with only a few exceptions. Therefore it is very easy for me to read Spanish and for my Spanish-speaking friends, pronouncing my name is fairly straightforward. With English speakers, the attempts to pronounce my name have resulted in various both unbelievably hilarious and frustrating conversations, and even after several repetitions, the result still sounds entirely off to my ears. When I was younger, it bewildered me that my American relatives could not read my name. Don't they teach reading in their country..?

In my opinion, English spelling is a total mess and full of illogical "rules", as Trubek argues. Finnish seems so much easier, no guessing involved, just reading what is written on the paper or on the screen. What should or could be done then? I would say that as language is an eternally changing and alive phenomenon, the only thing one can do is see where the natural growth of the language takes. In the future, I think the spelling system of English is going to move to simpler models but it is useless to force this change. Some changes are definitely easier to accept, for example "tonite" instead of "tonight", and these changes will therefore occur before accepting the major changes.

As in all language use through time, the spoken language (and nowadays the language used online) will be the first to welcome the "newcomers" and slowly the change will move towards official and academic texts. In Finland, language change is also a very prominent issue because of the ever-decreasing number of native Finnish speakers as our country is small. Proper Finnish is an issue of pride, and for a long time the Finnish Language Society was absolutely reluctant to update the Finnish dictionaries to follow the contemporary language use. It has however become evident that there is no way to stop this process, and it is better to embrace the changes rather than dwell in the past. People and times change, so why wouldn't the language?


  1. I would have to agree. We are in that stage of use it or lose it. I mean language is constantly evolving, we have dropped letters on words (like the "u" e.g. colour, honour). We seem to keep on editing it down to where it ends up assimilating just sound. To add up this this combination it seems that with technology today and being able to post on the web, to communicate via technology (e-mails, messages, tweets etc.), we seem to only get lazy to spell the word to its entirety.

  2. Though I agree that language is not a static thing and is constantly changing as neologisms are introduced and other words fall into archaism, but I worry, to use your example, about people who use the word "tonite" because they don't actually know that it's spelled "tonight" (it's one letter difference, hardly that much easier to text).

    Maybe I'm a curmudgeon, but I think you at least ought to know the rules before you go around breaking them — e e cummings was anything but semi-literate, after all.

    As for words springing not from misspelling but from abbreviation, like "lol," I cringed the first time I heard someone use it out loud, in a non-internet context. And I actually still do, not because I'm opposed to introducing new words into the language, but because it's easier to actually laugh out loud.

  3. Well, actually, to me it is very much easier to write "tonite" instead of "tonight", and the reason is not necessarily the number of letters in the word, but the pronunciation. In my native language, Finnish, words are ALWAYS written as they are pronounced, as in one letter equals one sound and all letters are pronounced etc. So yes, sometimes it would be easier if English did the same. :D

  4. I hadn't read the comments back when I read the article; now that I have, I'm horrified. I can understand disagreeing with Anne Trubek, but this is a bunch of educated people who are advocating for their position by calling her an idiot, saying this is the effect of liberal arts schools, mocking her, and so on. I couldn't even read all the comments because the insults got old. What ever happened to educated, smart people being able to debate about an issue in a civilized manner? One commenter accused her of publishing this in order to get a response and therefore feed her ego, but these comments seem ego-driven to me. Another thing: if somebody is going to be critical of "lazy" people who don't use proper spelling and grammar, they should be darn careful to not misplace a comma or make other grammar mistakes! Nobody is perfect (especially not me!), but when someone acts holier-than-thou, their mistakes stand out to me.