British Empire, French spellings...

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British Empire, French spellings...

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Dec 15, 2004 12:07 am

Being so close to Canada, I see and read a lot of Canadian print material. Now I know that the Queen's English includes the use of the French spellings of words that came to English through French (coloUr, humoUr, behavioUr, manOeuvRE, et al.). My question is this: if they're spelled in French, yet NEVER pronounced in French -- why on Earth retain the spelling? I realize this could just be one of those "just because" answers, but when I see them, my knowledge of French pronunciation forces me to "hear" them in their native tongue (co-LOOR, hu-MOOR, etc.). So what's the deal?
Submitted by Nathan Lansing (Seattle - U.S.A.)
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 12:21 am

Nathan .. two points .. firstly I would suggest that the general population does not know that the /our/ is French and should be pronounced this way or that .. they simply know that in their culture, in their schools, in their environment they see the word "colOUR" and the word "humOUR" .. that is the way it is .. secondly for those who do know that the /our/ has its origins in the French language then to them it is a reminder of the richness of the English language that has borrowed from so many languages and cultures .. borrowed words and phrases and made them a part of that wonderful corpus of knowledge that is the English language .. these subtle markers should never be lost as they are the link backwards to the roots of our language and language is one of the cornerstones of any culture .. besides who decides what is redundant and what is not ?? .. who is the arbiter that "colour" should be "color" or "counsellor" should be "counselor" or "metre" should be "meter" .. who is this almighty scholar ??
WoZ of Aus 10/12/04
Reply from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 12:34 am

Well, this is one of those things that nobody really knows. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it other than the French-language sounds have gradually become Anglicised, the longer and/or further they have been gone from home.

But the whole idea is a little strange because, pondering on it, the American language might seem to have equal or greater reason to have retained the French influence. But here my knowledge of American history lets me down.

Out of curiosity, I did a bit of research on the passenger list of The Mayflower. Although a mixed bunch, all of course spoke the same English, and there were a number of men of letters in the company (although in the main there were more servants/apprentices/tradesmen.) Plus at least one French woman. I then broke off because I realised that about two-thirds of these 102 people didn't survive either the journey or the next few years. Over the next several decades many more colonists followed, and also a large number from France.

My line of thought here was that this growing nation had strong reasons for continuing the French influence of their language, including spellings, but no. Just a moment considering the circumstances they must have endured makes me think there would have been little room for much in the way of formal education. Language was phonetically driven, and the additional German, Scandinavian and Dutch influx must have had a strong influence on the development of the spoken, and then written, English language which predominated.

For many years I worked (in England) with a colleague who had an Algerian wife. Although he was born and bred in the Midlands of England, he had what everyone thought to be an odd affectation. He pronounced all French words with a French accent. (His spoken and written French was fluent and colloquial.) It sounded bizarre, unnecessary and completely out of place, as if he was deliberately trying to pose. Additionally (and to the point of your query) his vowel sounds (flav-our, neighb-our etc) were pronounced in the same way. Because he spent so much time with French-speaking people, he was usually unaware that he was doing this, and to him it seemed both normal and natural.

This, I think is the key. Where the prevailing cultural climate is NOT French, then those French-based words in the English language are spoken within this context. It would appear affected and even ridiculous for someone to appear that they were trying to sort-of talk partly in a foreign language for no apparent reason.
In regions where French and English co-exist (such as parts of North Africa and Canada, and France, of course, then it would be natural to speak like this.

I would imagine it's much the same with a Russian or a German (etc) who learns and speaks English. I don't recall ever having heard a German speaking English with a French accent, which is exactly how the English speaking world today would perceive it!

The spellings? It won't be too long before these fade out, I'm sure. Already the more rational USA spelling is spreading, and in perhaps another couple of generations will probably be the norm.

Rob
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 12:47 am

Rob please explain how the american spelling is "more rational" ?? .. "rational" ?? .. how ?? .. like I say, which almighty scholar decides ??
WoZ of Aus 11/12/04
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 1:01 am

Hi Woz...well, you make 2 points...

It’s more rational in the phonetic sense, and this was also the point of Nathon's question. Say it out loud...FLAY-VOR...not (clears throat, chews garlic and tries to beat the Wallabies) FLAVE-OOR.
I do take your point, tho’. Quite apart from this one instance, the whole English language is littered with inconsistencies and contradictions anyway. One time, back when I was a student, I heard an Australian (as it happened, honest!) backpacker, road-map in hand, asking the best way to get to “Looga Barooga”. Following all the puzzled looks, he pointed at the map…to Loughborough.

Secondly (funny you should mention this!) I have just set my copy of MS Word 2000 to "UK English, and it's still telling me that "neighbour" "flavour" and "colour" are naughty, wrong spellings.

Sound familiar? (grin) Let’s see how MS Word 2020 rationalises “bough, rough, borough, through, thought, athough….

Rob

NOTES for non-English speakers...

“Loughborough”. English city in the Midlands. Pronounced “luff-burra”. Not to be confused with Slough, an English City in the South, pronounced “sir-l-ow” as in “Ow that hurts!”) Not to be confused with Houndslow, an Area of London, pronounced “howns-lough”, as in “Slough”. Hmmm…perhaps “colour” is a pretty sensible spelling after all…
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 1:14 am

p.s.
I've just noticed that MS Word (UK dictionary) is trying to tell me I've spelled "Houndslow" incorrectly. It wants it to be "Hounslow". Funny...it coped with "Loughborough" fine...
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 1:27 am

pps...thinking back to those first settlers in America, naming all their new places after English towns...New Plymouth, New Jersey etc, it seems that there was nobody from Loughborough. If there HAD been, then there would now be a city in the USA called New Lufboro...??
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 1:41 am

WoZ,
I gather you are against losing old spelling. I can and do sympathize with nostaglgia, but your reaction to 'rational' is telling. It is NOT rational to keep old useless spelling. The reason I get into this tussle is because I think you may be one of that half of people who were taught to read by " word recognition" and I think you may have been saddly marked by this fault. Am I wrong??
2k4dec10fri21:30,lneil
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 1:54 am

I am profoundly impressed by the level of discourse on my favorite interest. (I don't have hobbies -- hobbies cost money, interest are free). I see both sides of this quwstion because both sides are espoused and defended very well. Thank you all, and may the speculation/rationalization/clarification continue.

Incidentally, the "ough" question reminds me of Eddie Izzard, who suggests that "ough" was invented by a proto-linguist who wanted to score more points at Scrabble. Seriously, though, what a versatile phoneme that is (or is it morpheme -- I get those confused sometimes).

OUGH = oooh (through), oh (dough), uff (rough), ow (plough), aw (thought) -- and that interesting town mentioned earlier, "Slough", which, living in a lumber-producing region, has always been pronounced "sloo".

God, I love this language. Thanks to you all.

NdL 11Dec2004
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 2:07 am

PS: As for "who should be the arbiter", I understand your worry. I don't know how bad it is in the UK, but over here, modern digital pseudo-conveniences like text messaging on cell phones and instant messaging on computers are threatening to further savage the already shredded concept of proper spelling (please don't get me started, as a high school music teacher, I have a ringside seat for this gathering debacle).

But is the French solution any better than the problem? If I remember rightly, the French are the only government to have a cabinet/ministry-level position designed to ensure the purity of their language. It seems they have answered the "who will judge" question quite literally. Can it work against the constant influx of technology-driven neologisms?

In that case, German has a bit of an advantage: if it isn't in the language, borrow it and assign it a gender or compose its function from two or more smaller German words. The "Lego" approach to padding the lexicon.

I don't think citizens of the USA (I try to avoid using "Americans" because my government is arrogant enough for several lifetimes, thank you, and NO, I didn't vote for them), would stand for an arbiter of language telling them how to properly spell "thoroughly" or other words with origins that make them difficult to spell phonetically -- even if that person's decisions made spelling easier.

Right, enough blather. Thanks again for your posts.

NdL 11Dec2004
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 2:21 am

Nathan...please forgive my "in-house" reference to MS Word. Go back and read le debacle regardezing "Microsoft corrupting English wordwide" and you'll find yourself on familiar ground...or so I think...by the sounf of things...
:-)
R
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 2:34 am

Just a small correction Robert. The English town you mention IS Hounslow (Middlesex), and it is pronounced exactly as you would expect, Houn slow.
Enuff?
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 2:47 am

Oops! I actually looked this up when I penned the above, as i coudn't remember. The first google page refered to several "Houndslow" civic functions...so I accepted it. I've just checked the "Hounslow" spelling...and I have references to the town again, only LOTS of 'em. Sorry! Looks like there are 2 Hounds/Hounslows.
And I totally agree with the pronounciation...it was as I said...pronounced Houn-slough...as in Slough.
Bit slow on the wiggle, there Leighton!
R

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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 3:01 am

Hmmm...having just sat here muttering "houns-LOW, houns-LAO, houns-LOO" etc etc to myself for 20 minutes, I again apologise, and wish to correct my last statement.
"Hounslow" is pronounced "Houns-lough, as in "furlough", just like Leighton said.
R
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Post by Archived Reply » Wed Dec 15, 2004 3:14 am

Louis
"I gather you are against loosing old spelling." >> there are no "old" spellings just modern coruptions .. *grin* ..

"I can and do sympathize with nostaglgia," >> spelling isn't "nostalgia" it is living history .. it gives us the direction from whence our language came .. it provides us with our language roots .. subtle markers that leave an idellible trail ..

"It is NOT rational to keep old useless spelling." >> I said nothing about being anything being rational .. R Masters suggested that changing to American spelling was a "rational" approach .. I queried how this could be so .. and as far as spelling being "old" and "useless" I see "modernised" spelling as being slovenly, misguided and lacking in an educated appreciation .. and as anybody with even a small grasp of what 'Enry 'Iggins was on about, just whose pronunciation do we model our new age spelling on ?? .. if we use the "might-is-right argument then you had better prepare for Hinglish spellings !!

"I think you may be one of that half of people who were taught to read by " word recognition" >> Louis, I had a very solid grounding in both sight word vocabulary and in phonemic awareness/phonics ..
"and I think you may have been saddly (sic) marked by this fault. Am I wrong??" >> Yes I fear you are .. and "saddly (sic) marked" ?? .. let's not get into that mammoth argument about whole word v phonics as to who is right .. horses for courses and it depends who is the jockey and trainer .. both work in given contexts and both are needed to grasp the intricacies of reading English ..

.. and Robert
"It’s more rational in the phonetic sense,..." >> if we are trying, even remotely, to have some "phonetic sense" then "kulla" would come closer .. but we are restricted by the 26 letters we use and handicapped by the mirade of pronunciations across regions .. even the addition of a schwa would help .. anyway I suppose it is time that someone quoted that wonderful Linguistics 101 standard of George Bernard Shaw who, quite within the bounds of English spelling, declared that the correct spelling of "fish" was "ghoti" ..

"the whole English language is littered with inconsistencies and contradictions anyway." >>> NO NO NO .. the whole of the English language is littered with etymological history (is that a tautology?) .. and more often than not the problems have been created by well meaning reformers who for some reason or another wanted to "reform" spelling to make it easier .. and we all know that that has worked don't we .. LOL ..

WoZ of Aus 12/12/04
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