On what page of Chapter 6, "The Sounds of Silence", of the book The Language Instinct does author Steven Pinker start talking about his take on English spelling? I have to write an essay on his two main points of this and would like to know where to start reading.
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In his book The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, first edition, author Steven Pinker first offers his criticism of the English spelling system, in full, on page 185 of chapter 6, which is titled "The Sounds of Silence".
According to Pinker, the complaint with the spelling of our language is that
it pretends to capture the sounds of words but does not
In this chapter there are two major discussion points. The first is the argument of how the English language in itself has specific mechanics of phonology and sounds, as well as phonetics.
The second part of the chapter argues that the mechanics do not match our spelling. It also offers a short history of how George Bernard Shaw felt that the English spelling system was illogical in the first place. In fact, Shaw worked quite diligently to reform our alphabet without much success.
GB Shaw's claims are quite true. The letters in English spelling have a striking variety of sounds when they are combined with different vowels and other consonants. They change all the time!
Shaw was the first to propose how interchangeable English spelling is by using the word "fish" as an example. Each sound in the word "fish", /f//i//s//h/, can be substituted with other letters that produce a similar sound. This being said, "fish" could be spelled as "ghoti". How so? Easily, according to Shaw. All we need to do is replace the /f/ with the alternative homophone gh phoneme, which we use in words such as "tough", and "rough", and even in last names such as McLaughlin. Then, we replace the /ish/ in "fish" with the homophone "ti" that we use in words such as "corporation and nation.
There are still more replacements that can be made to that same word. Who is to say, then, that children are wrong when they spell a word phonetically exactly as they hear it? Is that not the entire point of written communication, to match a symbol to a sound that makes sense?
On an interesting note, Pinker offers this short poem for people to understand the extent to which English spelling is confusing.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word That looks like beard and sounds like bird, And dead: it's said like bed, not bead-For goodness' sake don't call it "deed"! Watch out for meat and great and threat (They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
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