We all know the rule: “I before E, except after C,” but it’s not applicable in “weird” or “science” or many other words. The English language has many exceptions to its rules, and these irregularities make it a difficult language to spell. Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University and author of Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or Why Can’t Anybody Spell, and Niall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The Down and Dirty, Nitty-Gritty History of English Spelling, explain more about where these complex spelling rules come from and what can be done about it.
The English language is a melting pot of several languages all jumbled together over its long history. Combining the spelling and pronunciation of old English, French, Latin, Dutch, and others has produced a language with silent letters, varied spellings, and many exceptions to its rules. Some of the influences on the formation of the English language were the conquerors infiltrating the country, the church writing the books, and the academics refining the language.
Many people have brought up ways to change this problem and fix one of the most inconsistent language systems in the world. When the English language came to America, it became even more complex, because Noah Webster, trying to simplify English spellings, gave us two ways to spell the same words, “labour” or “labor” for example. Some have proposed a phonetic spelling, but with all the different accents in the world, Cook says it would do more harm than good. Waldman proposes adjusting the exceptions to fit the rules, in order to make the language more consistent. In any case, they both suggest that in future we create a set of rules to add consistency to new words entering the English language.
To learn more about our guests and their thoughts on the English language, visit the links below.
- Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University and author of Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or Why Can’t Anybody Spell
- Niall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The Down and Dirty, Nitty-Gritty History of English Spelling