July 3, 2015 by libroshombre
“Pronunciation Errors That Changed Modern English” was a fascinating TheGuardian.com article posted by David Shariatmadari in 2014. He noted that “The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists 171,476 words as being in common use. But the average person’s vocabulary is tens of thousand smaller, and the number of words they use every day smaller still. There are bound to be things we’ve read or are vaguely familiar with, but not able to pronounce as we are supposed to.”
This sometimes leads to the letters in words shifting over time. For example, there’s “rebracketing,” where pronouncing “a” or “an” before a word causes words like “nadder,” “numpire,” and “napron” to be misheard so often they evolved “adder,” “umpire,” and “apron.” Occasionally letters in words move around, and that’s how “waps,” “brids,” and “”hros” became “wasps,” “birds,” and “horse.” Linguists call that “metathesis.” It’s “epenthesis” when our mouths find adding an extra letter more comfortable, like turning “thuner” into “thunder” and “emty” into “empty.”
Then there are “syncopes,” words like that have lost the sounds of some of their letters, such as “Christmas,” with its silent “t,” and “Woden’s day” morphing into “Wednesday.” Shariatmadari wrote that “[b]orrowing from other languages can give rise to an entirely understandable and utterly charming kind of mistake” known as “folk etyomology. With little or no knowledge of the foreign tongue, we go for an approximation that makes some kind of sense in terms of sound and meaning..” That’s how the French term for lobster, “ecrevisse,” became “crayfish, the Algonquin word for “red,” “muscascus,” became “muskrat,” and the Old French word for “woman,” “femelle,” became “female.”
Shariatmadari’s article links to a BBC article about research conducted by Global Language Monitor (GLM), an Austin, Texas company, showing that on average most native English speakers know 50,000 of the estimated one-to-two million words in our language. Those with college educations average about 75,000, and those without college backgrounds know about 35,000. These are gross generalizations, however, and a person’s active reading is a better predictor of vocabulary strength than education levels. Allan Simmons, the 2013 British Scrabble champion, said he “can recognize around 100,000 of the 160,000 words of nine letters or under included on the Scrabble list. Guess what, Allan? GLM says a new English word’s created every 98 minutes, and the Scrabble overseers added 6,500 new words last month. Many of these, like “ridic” (ridiculous) and “wahh” (wailing) come from the linguistic evolution generated by technology and social media. Now “Bezzy” (best friend) scores 18 points, for instance, and emoji (expressive digital icon) gets 14.
Last week’s News Miner “Brushing Up Fairbanks” article about public art, described some of the murals, and now “murals” includes more than wall paintings. “Mural” comes from “murus,” Latin for “wall.” According to the DailyWritingTips.com blog, the OED “‘mural’ in the context of painting is an American coinage from 1908. In earlier British usage, a mural was ‘a fruit tree grown against and fastened to a wall. In US urban settings, mural is used in its customary sense, but recently it has come to be used of paintings made on sidewalks, on streets, and even on such things as benches.”
A marvelous mural, the best in town in my opinion, resides in Noel Wien Library. Titled the Alaska Fairy Tale, it was created by Bill Berry in 1979, and completed after Berry’s death by Trina Schart Hyman. The mural hangs in the William Berry Room, the children’s area named after the great wildlife artist, and it’s inspired thousands of young Alaskans attending the public library’s Summer Reading Program activities to extend the dreams of childhood into their adult lives through the magic of reading.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift,” as Kate DiCamillo wisely wrote. Taking the kid in your life to the library makes for some marvelous lifelong summertime memories for you both. Besides, children who read make for better Scrabble competition, and, like Fran Lebowitz noted, “Children are the most desirable opponents at Scrabble as they are both easy to beat and fun to cheat.”