Hryvna Spells Confusion

In far too many cases, orthography is most definitely not destiny

Allan Milne Lees

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Image credit: Warner Brothers

I’ve seen too much of human folly in my life to have an unbounded stock of optimism; nevertheless I cling with almost childlike earnestness to the idea that if a culture is going to expend the trouble to record things orthographically and if the intent of such written productions is to permit readers to form a reasonably accurate impression of the sound of the spoken word thus represented on the page, it would be helpful to conform to the general agreement regarding the sounds made by the letters within whatever system of orthography is being used.

While it is certainly true that local accents will alter the sounds of spoken words in such a way as to render their representation on the page merely indicative, very few regional accents are sufficiently ornate as to eliminate entirely the connection between written and spoken word. English is, alas, awkward to learn as a second language because written British English is historically, but not presently, phonetic. We thus in many words stress the vowel if followed by an e, as in treasure-trove, strove, and grove. But we now pronounce love as though it were written “luv.” There are many hundreds of similar examples, and consistency is evasive. Rough is pronounced “ruf” while through is pronounced “threw” and bough is pronounced “bow.” Even allowing for this wanton variety, however, it would be possible for an interlocutor to understand someone’s spoken speech if they talked about “being in love” with a person and willing therefore to go thrug hard times with them.

Alas for my childlike earnestness, the world’s a naughty place and for reasons that continue to elude me there are those who appear to take delight in violating the precept that the written word should be some sort of guide to pronunciation.

Feng Shui is the Chinese art of arranging objects so as, supposedly, ensure a harmonious flow of energy. Not at all harmonious, however, is the fact that Feng Shui is actually pronounced “fung shweh.” Why not simply transcribe the standard Mandarin pronunciation therefore as Fung Shweh? Why play what is essentially an orthographic bad joke on non-Mandarin speakers?

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Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.