The English language is stupid.
I know I’m not the first person to make this groundbreaking observation. Every rule in the English language is broken at least ten times. I before e except after c, or in pretty much every other word where you stop yourself, sure you’re about to spell it wrong, and then you repeat that adage and end up writing, “the horse nieghed.”
We’ve got some words pronounced in a Germanic fashion, others in the Latin manner, and probably some Scandinavian. England’s been invaded so often that they can’t even make their mind up on the correct words for various objects. Theater is a German word, cinema is French, so English uses them interchangeably.
Quick, what’s the difference between purple and violet? Nothing, aside from their language of origin.
And then there are the silent letters. I assume those are coming from French, because those bastards put an eaux at the end of every damn word. And really? Hors d’ouevres? It should be spelled ordurves. But I don’t think there are any gh’s in French, so WTF?
But we all just sit here and accept it all, as silently as half the fucking letters in our language, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome. Come to think of it, the vikings came from Stockholm, and they’re just one group that conquered England and fucked up the way they speak. So much for an island being easy to defend. The Danes were doing island hopping long before Douglas MacArthur made it hip and fashionable.
My current agitation with the only language I can read more than a sentence of is because I’m trying to teach it to my daughter. Not the spoken part. She’s got that part nailed down. Mostly. I mean, she still can’t seem to distinguish between hearing directions and following directions, but I teach high schoolers, and I know that subtle distinction is still a long way coming.
But she’s ready to learn how to read. And we’re ready for her to learn how to read. Because I swear, if I have to read about giving a mouse a fucking muffin one more goddamned time, I’m going to shove that muffin right up his rodent ass.
She’s been doing phonics at daycare for the better part of two years, so she knows all the sounds. She’s been taking swimming lessons for the same amount of time, and her swimming ability is about the same as her reading skills. She knows the motions, but if she were try to put them all together on her own, she’d end up at the bottom of the picture book, struggling to breathe.
So instead of throwing her into the deep end, we’ve been trying to sound things out together. And right off the bat, I’m questioning how much money we’ve wasted on phonics. She’s very lazy at reading beyond the first letter. After two years of “B is for bird,” she now sees box and goes, “buh, buh, big?” I’ll then have her sound it out. And she can do it.
“Buh, ah, ks.”
“Okay, put them all together.”
“Buh, buh, bamboozle.”
Where the fuck did you get boozle out of an x, kid?
But we’re trying, and she’s getting closer when she actually focuses. So we started out with everyone’s first reading adventure: Dr. Seuss. More specifically, “Hop on Pop.”
And it starts out great. Pup. Cup. Pup in Cup. Cup. Pup. Cup on Pup. All words she can sound out. Rhyming words. Once she’s figured out the ending sound, she can substitute the beginning sound, which she’s great at from phonics.
Then it gets a little tougher. Day. Play. We play all day.
At this point, I question whether or not I should explain to her why she’s not pronouncing a “yuh” at the end of play and day. That the vowel following the other vowel turns the former into a long sound, even if Y is a little bitch that can’t decide if it’s a vowel or not. Or do I just tell her that this is one of those cases where A says it’s name and hope she’ll just ignore the extra letter there? And all of a sudden, I’m the phonics teacher telling her the end of the word doesn’t matter and she should just sound out the beginning of the word and then make a wild stab at what form the vowel is taking in this particular word.
Then comes the next page. Night. Fight. We fight all night.
What the fuck? I give up.
First of all, Dr. Seuss, what the hell are silent “gh”es doing on page five of a book that is listed as “Easy reading. For the beginning readers”?
Secondly, what the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s one thing to tell her to ignore the y in day, when the y is silent but is in fact serving a purpose there, and if you were to pronounce “da-yuh,” you wouldn’t be kicked out of polite society. People would probably just think you’re singing a Harry Belafonte song.
But now I’m faced with a silent gh. If you pronounce it “niguhut,” people will have you committed. And now that I look at it in the “liguhut” of day, what the hell are those letters doing there in the first place? Are they acting as vowels to lengthen the i? So now I have to tell my daughter that the vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, and sometimes w, and sometimes gh. But the last three sets of “vowels” only act as vowels when they completely give up their will to live, don’t say their name and just sit there, aiding and abetting their “more important” brethren like a goddamned politician’s spouse?
Just sit there and look pretty, dears, and if anyone asks you what you really think about guhu-gate, stay quiet.
So with these words, I didn’t tell Daughter to do anything with the middle portion of the word. I just told her, “That word is night. That word is fight.”
And just like that, I’ve crossed over the great debate line in the world of reading. Because if you’re not on the side of phonics, then you must be with those rat bastards in the whole language camp. Whole languagers say, “Fuck sounding it out. Just memorize what each word is and use context clues.”
And really, isn’t that how we read? Even those of us who read via internal vocalization (and yes, I know that every goddamn speed reading course tells me to knock that shit off and I totally know I don’t need to do it and it’s frustrating as shit that it’s slowing me down, but gaddammit, I just can’t stop), don’t sound out the words. I know what “fucking goddammit” says, so I just say “fucking goddammit,” instead of “fuh, uh, sss, kuh, ih, nuh, guh” in my mind. Whole Language!
Whole Language basically tells us to learn all of the words and voila! you’re reading. Seems rather daunting for a language that has hundreds of thousands of words. But that’s probably also the number of different ways you can pronounce the letter c. So maybe instead of telling her the difference between the sss sound and the ck sound and the ch sound, I can just tell her the cisgendered cock has a chub. By the time I’m done explaining all of the rules of the language, those words will be totally appropriate for her.
And if Whole Language is just memorizing, then my five year-old should be a pro. She can recite the whole goddamned “Hop on Pop” without even looking at the page. Which is annoying when I’m trying to figure out if she’s actually learning how to read.
“Dad had a bad day. What a day dad had.”
“Wow, good job, Love… Wait, why are you staring out the window?”
But if we’re going to go the Whole Language route, then why the fuck have we spent the last two years teaching her the sounds of all the letters? And I don’t just mean that as a parent who has wasted time and money and brain cells listening to “A is for Apple, Apple, Apple” fifteen thousand times.
Why do we spend time telling out kids that e is for elephant when ninety percent of the time you encounter the letter e, it isn’t going to sound like that? We should instead say “e is for evil and elephant, but most of the time it’s silent just to fuck with the other vowel, vowel, vowel.”
And even when all that is done, can anyone, anywhere tell me what the fuck is with the whole silent gh thing?