I was reminded yesterday of the vagaries of English and how much I pity anyone who attempts to learn it as a second language. To, too, two. Its, it’s. Your, you’re. Multiple pronunciations of the same letter combinations, as in the title of this post. English is a marvelous, expressive language — but, thanks to the many cultural sources from which it obtains new words, it offers a bewildering and sometimes seemingly random assortment of spellings and sounds.
I’m currently working on a book whose author speaks (first) Dutch, (second) French, and (third) English. He has a wonderful grasp of English; and, in an example in his book, he introduced me to something I’d never heard of: Shavian.
Posthumously funded by and named after Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Shavian alphabet (also known as Shaw alphabet) was conceived as a way to provide a simple, phonetic orthography for the English language to replace the difficulties of the conventional spelling. Shaw set two main criteria for the new alphabet: that it should be phonetic, with as great as possible a 1:1 correspondence between letters and sounds; and that it should be distinct from the Latin alphabet so as to avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply “misspellings”.
What a superb idea: a phonetic alphabet that would yield something akin to “thuh tuhff cawft az hee plowd thuh doh” (only written in much prettier, vaguely Elvish characters; here’s an example) and would thus save us from our maddening tangle of spellings and pronunciations.