Monday, 16 July 2012

How complex is English?

Following on from yesterday's short post about dyslexia and music, and the idea that learning music is easier than English language & literacy because it is more logical, I took to the web to find out more about how English compares with other languages. The Economist has an interesting overview on the subject, contending that English isn't that complex set against languages from far and wide.

I also happened upon this detailed comparison between English and Spanish which provides the following information:


26 letters
42 - 44 phonemes
27 letters + conditional rules
50% of words are irregular and not readily decodable according to set rules


27 letters and 3 digraphs (rr, ll, ch)
22 - 24 phonemes
7 conditional rules
99% of words are readily decodable according to set rules

This is particularly interesting for me in my own work as I know of two students within my setting who have a history of speech and language delay and present with dyslexic-type difficulties - yet, relatively speaking, they have excelled at Spanish. 

This is initially surprising because there is a understandable line of thinking (often put forward by the students themselves) that would suggest if a student cannot master their native language at the same pace as peers then a foreign language will be even more problematic. However, these two particular students are both quite literal ('black and white') in their thinking and maybe the more logical structure of Spanish is more suited to them than English?

Finally, looking around the web I was surprised to find out other major world languages including the Germans, French and Spanish have public bodies which attempt to 'regulate' their language - the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibun, the L'Académie Française and the Real Academia Española, respectively. However, before we get envious, I also found this 'A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling' by Mark Twain which satirises any similar attempt to proactively make English easier to read and write:
For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld. 

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