About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

19 July, 2014

Going Crazy With English

Germany proved to be a great team at this year's World Cup.

Lately, I've been craving a piece of Banana Cream Pie.

Both of the above would put me in a good mood.

I have a love and hate relationship with the English language.

I love words. I'm a writer, after all, and I don't think I could be one without loving them. I love how, when you read them, they create tapestries in your mind and take you places. They make you feel things; something new or intensify an emotion you were already experiencing. In the right construction, they can be conjure irony, anger, insightfulness, confusion, enlightenment. But, in doing all of that, why does it have to be terribly inconsistent?

You've likely thought about this yourself. If you look at the three sentences at the top of this post, you'll see what I mean. The first one has the words great and team and both words have 'ea' in the middle yet they have completely different sounds; one is pronounced 'ee' while the other is 'ay.' The second one has piece and pie. In the first word, the 'ie' sounds like 'ee' and in the second it's like 'eye.' Finally, good and mood. You know how they sound differently. 

Before I go on, I do understand that there are accentual reasons why some of these words might be said differently. I grew up in Hong Kong and had some Scottish friends and their pronunciation of good often sounded like mood. My fellow Filipinos might pronounce team like tim, for instance, but that's not what I'm talking about. Here's my thing: why can't the same letters in the same combination have the same sounds across the board? English words have come from a lot of different sources throughout the course of history. Many are from Latin, Germanic and Greek origins. Some are more recent and from Asian origins (e.g. boondocks came from the Filipino word bundok (mountain) and was brought into English usage by American soldiers who were in The Philippines during World War II). Words, however, have evolved from their origins to become what they are today yet there are differences in pronunciation even when there are consistencies in spelling.

The other thing that drives me a little nuts, which came on recently as my wife and I teach our son to read, is silent letters. For example, tight or might. I get the need for the 'h.' There's a breathy quality, a gasp almost, just before the 't' in the pronunciation to both words. But, there's no 'g' sound whatsoever so why do we need to have the letter in the word? Some words do have to be spelt differently. No and know, for example. If both were deconstructed to their simplest forms, they'd both be no and reading could get confusing. Context would take on a larger role. But that brings me back to my first 'hate' of the English language. Know is pronounced like no but the 'ow' in other words, like how and cow, have a different sound. And then there's bow, which has both sounds. Another double sounder is tear.

One can go crazy thinking about this stuff and, perhaps, I am crazy. The deeper I get into the world of words, though, as someone trying to forge a career as a writer, the more I become aware of these inconsistencies - or, at least, challenges - in the English language. They won't stop me from writing, however. I'm a writer and writers write. Heck, maybe I'll write a book with streamlined spelling and pronunciation to see if the language can actually be approached that way. 

Happy writing!