English is a funny ol’ thing

By Mike Baker

I read, often, that English is by far the single most difficult language an individual can try to learn.

It’s a strange concept for most of us anglophones to wrap our heads around. After all, we’ve been speaking English for most of our lives. We picked it up when we were babies, and were fluent before we hit double digits. How hard can it be?

This particular topic of conversation came up recently during an online chat with a group of my friends. In what was a brief foray away from the typical topics – football [okay, soccer], football [again, soccer] and… Okay, fine… Soccer – we started discussing how hard it would be attempting to learn a second language. You see, one of my friends has been presented with a job opportunity that would require him to move from England to France. Before he commits one way or the other, he wants to try to learn how to speak French.

A reasonable decision, I thought. Immediately though, several of our other friends started to laugh. I guess the concept of learning a new language, or more specifically this certain friend attempting to learn a new language, was funny to them. I listened as a couple of them claimed there’s no harder language in the world to learn than French.

This is where I sprang into action, equipped with the knowledge that it is in fact English that is the most difficult to pick up. I know this because Google told me so.

“Nah, get out of it. What are you on about? You’re off your rocker you are, Mike,” one exclaimed.

Now I’m not sure why I chose this particular hill to die on, but I doubled down. I started referencing the usual linguistic mysteries that I’m sure some of you have heard of. My favourite was looking at two states south of the border – Kansas and Arkansas. Why is it that Kansas is pronounced exactly how it sounds, yet Arkansas is pronounced ‘Are-can-saw?’

There was silence.

Then I found this doozie online.

If the ‘gh’ sound in ‘enough’ is pronounced ‘F’ and the ‘O’ in ‘women’ makes the short ‘I’ sound, and the ‘T’ in ‘nation’ is pronounced ‘sh’, then shouldn’t the word ‘ghoti’ be pronounced just like ‘fish?’

Furthermore, using the same method and reinforcing the original point, ghoti could also be seen to be a completely silent word. Taking the ‘gh’ from ‘though’, the ‘O’ from ‘people’, the ‘T’ from ‘ballet’ and the ‘I’ from ‘business’ and there you have it – nothing at all.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself ‘what on earth are you talking about?’ or ‘what’s the point of all of this?’ I guess that, it itself, is the point. English is such a complicated language that by trying to break down and explain exactly why it is complicated, I’ve complicated matters to such a point that my point now seems pointless.

English sure is a funny ol’ thing.