Friday, June 29, 2018


Minor note: As a poor boy, having to attend university as a career major, instead of taking liberal arts, I would have missed out on any language changes that others might know of, that might have been made since my strict elementary years.

Hello reader,
Got Anglicizing?

“Anglicizing,” of course, means pronouncing stuff so it sounds regular, not twisted. After all, nobody tells tongue twisters in everyday life. But if you are tempted to, then I totally recommend a tome of tongue twisters, The Fox in Sock by Dr. Seuss—My second favorite childhood doctor. 

As for who is my favorite doctor… I have a nice blue ceramic copy of a certain police telephone box, complete with piggy bank slot.

Recently, I was delighted to hear the pronunciation by “the doctor” during a TV commercial. Watching historical figures appear: “There’s Winston Churchill… and there’s Van Goff,” adds the doctor, not Van “Go.” As for me, I will say “go,” but only because, among American adults, I have heard Vincent Van Gogh’s name spoken so very many times. 

I suppose the doctor was being polite to nice British children: As practical journalists know, (see Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style) “there are new babies being born every minute who have not heard the name pronounced,” not by anyone in their dear housing tenement. The innocent children who read “Gogh” will say it as it is spelled. The standard way.

Is being “innocent,” with “standardized” speech, right and proper? Not necessarily so. Suppose you are a child: If your parents can afford a nanny like in those Mary Poppins books, if you are growing up in a big house with a nursery and a drawing room, if your parents buy expensive art at timely intervals, giving you enough time, between each new painting, to practice saying strangely the name of each new foreign artist… then practice away! 

If your parents for some reason want you to say “limb” instead of “leg,” and a “pride” of lions and a “murder” of crows, instead of a bunch or a flock, then practice is important. Maybe your parents are more concerned with “appearing classy” than with being courteous and fair to those poor kids reading in the tenements. Since they are your parents, please forgive them.

As for me, I think of a truck driver: my brother Jimmy. If he were to drive all across Canada, all of five and a half time zones, then I would hope all the other English speakers would use standard words and pronunciation too. For any new words, they could still all talk nicely together. Not getting fouled up. No, because all across Canada, all of those people raised without nannies would have agreed to a common sense default for new words pronunciation. No fault, no foul. 

Jim’s lifestyle allows him time to read good books, mostly westerns and science fiction, but he hasn’t enough time to learn exceptions to the rules of English pronunciation. Having learned as a child the five vowels, “and sometime Y,” James won’t take time as an adult to stand in front of a mirror and practice shifting gears to drop into strange foreign vowels and back up again. In other words, his sentences will not include any words abruptly spoken in italics. 

As for driving trucks and cars, Jim and I both learned to drive a manual transmission, shifting gears smoothly, but such learning required extra work. There’s a good reason most Canadians stick to automatics—it’s practical.

And so is English practical. When I was in high school taking French, every year I kept learning a new list of irregular verb forms, a lonnngg list, even during my last year. And those conjugations! “I rock, you rockez, they rockoley…” No wonder, as a rebellious youth, I failed French. I just wanted to rock. (But I took it again and passed) 

We still have a few English exceptions to memorize: I drink, I have drunk, I had drank … but fewer all the time. These days, only swimmers my age and older say “I dove in,” just as only older basketball players switch to taking penalty shots with an underhand throw—Young players complain it’s not practical to learn to do so. 

Another practical English thing: no genders to memorize. No la knife and le fork. For our innocent nonsexist children, no teacher and teacher-ess. I like how in Britain the semi-sexist binary “ladies and gentlemen” is being replace with a unisex “you lot.” ( phrase I hear on Doctor Who) In Australia, Judging by a lady journalist on Youtube interviewing the doctor and Clara, unisex is “you guys.”

The language encourages non-sexist democracy for English speakers. Not like in Germany, where, according to some guy in a tavern, there are seven “verbal salutes” built into their language, where you must acknowledge a speaker of a higher social class as being your superior. I suppose the German language has sexism too. In Japan, as I heard in the aforementioned tavern, there are 27 salutes, but some of those are only for addressing the emperor. Well. No need to ask whether the Japanese have sexism, eh? No wonder back during my youth in Vancouver, when a rebellious Japanese teen was addressed in Japanese by his parents, the boy would reply in English.

Back in the mists of time, back when France was still Gaul, then, on lush green hills across the English Channel, the original creators of English were practical and democratic. They had to be: After the fall of Rome restless tribes poured in, mostly the Jutes, (there’s a Jutland in Denmark) the Saxons, (There’s a Saxony in Germany) and the Angles. Others too, of course. An English common prayer ended, “And deliver us from the fury of the Northmen.” 

My vision: If, late on a tired English afternoon, you ran into a bearded fellow from the next valley, looking at you under his furrowed brow with suspicion, his sword loose in his scabbard, well, that was no time to be throwing a childish tongue twister at him. If the man was from another tribe, then you needed a practical pidgin language. Can do? No time for memorizing irregular verb exceptions. No irregular vowels. The nonsexist, non-classist democracy of the language was a happy side effect.

For the English, anglicizing was a practical courtesy. The constraints of simplicity and only having five vowels freed them to speak for peace.

(...Next Week is Part Two, or 
Anglicizing With My Brother Jim...)

Sean Crawford

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