Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ghoti, and the Treasures of the English Language

Whenever an oddity of English spelling or grammar comes up in class, I have a mini-lesson in my back pocket about "Why I Hate the English Language." (I don't, of course...but English does have some twisted spelling, grammar, and conventions...which can make it difficult to learn the rules.)

I happened again this week...I can't remember the exact context anymore, but off I went on my rant...

"How do you pronounce this part of a word?" as I write -ough on the board. The students usually respond in chorus:

"Uff." "Ooo." "Owe." "Off."

So I start writing:

About this time the class starts they start to realize what I'm getting at.


So we proceed:

On the board I write: mouse louse house

I ask, "What if you have more than one mouse? Then you have..."


I ask, "What if you have more than one louse?"

(Depending on the group, there is sometimes quite a pause here before someone eventually proposes:) "Lice?"

I ask, "How about more than one house? Hice? NO." and I write houses on the board.


We go on.

On the board: goose moose caboose

By now they are getting it: "Geese!" "Meese! Cabeese! HA!"


Finally, the clincher: "How would you pronounce this word?" as I write ghoti on the board.

Predictably: "Goatee."

To which, I respond, "Wrong!"

They look at me, bemused. "Of course it should be pronounced 'fish.'"

More bemused faces.

I explain:
"gh" says "f" in enough.
"o" says "i" in women.
"ti" says "sh" in motion.

Clearly, ghoti should be pronounced "fish."

With a wink and a smile, "I hate English."


My students do know I'm joking. (Really.) They know me well enough to know that I like to chase rabbit trails like this just for sport. Generally, these just-for-fun mini-lessons are a one shot deal that help them get to know me, and hopefully help them see that I have interests and thoughts beyond just the subject I'm teaching them.

But then, a thoughtful student shared this with me this week after our exchange in class. Good points here. English is actually a wealth of treasures--and the oddities only add to the luster!

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