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Double English: Worse than Double Dutch!by Eric Shackle
English spelling is guaranteed to confuse even those of us who have spoken the language all our lives. Sometimes, when we find our mother tongue difficult to understand, we say "it sounds like double Dutch."
A Dutch school teacher and author, Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), returned the compliment when he wrote a long poem, De Chaos, first published in Amsterdam as an appendix to the fourth edition of his schoolbook Drop Your Foreign Accent, engelsche uitspraakoefeningen (Haarlem: H D Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1920).
In an article entitled The Classic Concordance of Cacographic Chaos, published by the Simplified Spelling Society in 1994, Chris Upward, of Birmingham, England, a vice-president of the Society, wrote: "The Chaos represents a virtuoso feat of composition, a mammoth catalogue of about 800 of the most notorious irregularities of traditional English orthography, skilfully versified (if with a few awkward lines) into couplets with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes."
Upward's scholarly review, and a complete version of The Chaos, are displayed on the Spelling Society website. Here are the opening lines:
Dearest creature in creation
A poem frequently quoted on the Internet is The English Lesson. Strangely, no-one seems to know the name of the genius who composed it. Here it is:
The English Lesson
One of the many websites displaying The English Lesson on the Internet comments "Our queer language: so you think French is hard?" Another lists it under the heading "Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners." A Danish site shows the headline "A dreadful language? English. Engelsk sprogforbistring."
On a St. Louis, Missouri (US) website, Gary V Deutschmann has revised the final couplet to read "So the ENGLISH, I Think, You All Will AGREE/Is The Most WONDERFUL LANGUAGE You Ever Did SEE." And on an Ohio page it appears as "Let's be more tolerant of he and she/ And of all of those who have diffi-cul-tee!"
Summing up, the puzzle of English pronunciation is admirably described in this final couplet of the first stanza of The English Lesson:
So our English, I think you will agree
© 2002 Eric Shackle (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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