For me, language is interesting. It is all about communication and that is what I enjoy doing and it is the cornerstone of what I do professionally. As I have discussed on a previous occasion, I do not really speak any foreign languages [but I have signed up for Italian classes in 2010!], so my focus is on using English as well as possible. It may be assumed that I mean that I should use English correctly, but, in reality, my priority is to use it as an effective communication tool, which is not necessarily the same thing…
Languages are living things. They evolve over time and English is changing very fast. Every year, dictionaries of new words seem to get bigger. I am not resistant to change, except where we are losing something valuable and I will come back to that another day.
I am very fortunate in having many friends and colleagues in other countries. For many of them, English is their second or third language. I am constantly amazed at how well many of them can use English as a communications tool. I am also surprised at what I can learn from them about my own language. I will take as an example my friends from Sweden. Typically their English is superb. Most often their spoken English is near perfect, as that is how they have first come to the language. Frequently their written English is very good, but they seem to be commonly challenged by a particular English phenomenon: homonyms. These are words that are pronounced the same way, but have different meanings and, often, different spellings. Examples include: “there”, “their” and “they’re”; “here” and “hear”; “write” and “right”; “where”, “wear” and “ware”; “to”, “too” and “two”.
These are very hard to deal with. A spell checker is almost no use. Unless it can analyze the grammar, how can it tell which word is correct? Even then, there is room for ambiguity. So this leads me to an interesting, and very controversial, question: does it actually matter? If you have effectively communicated, does this “spelling error” have any significance? It is hard to see that any ambiguity is introduced, as that is not the case in spoken English, where the words do sound exactly the same.
I am not advocating a “free for all”, where all spelling rules are abandoned. I just wonder if a little simplification or relaxation would be beneficial.
While I am on this theme, maybe I should mention apostrophes. What use are they? They are just an anachronism, which numerous people get wrong. How often do you see signs like “Apple’s on sale”? An apostrophe is simply a place-holder for some letters that have been omitted, resulting in a contraction. Just like with homonyms, there is no ambiguity in spoken English, so why does it matter when we write it down? Can we not just have a few new words: “dont”, “cant”, “shant”, and so forth.
That has put the feline among the gallinaceans.