A recent TikTok video brought back memories of an incident that happened 15 years ago. Friends of ours (Ms. A and Mr. B) were on a trip and as they were getting ready to embark on an adventurous sky diving feat, one of the guys helping them asked, “Where are you from?” Ms. A was brand new to this country and in all her enthusiasm she replied, “San Jose (pronouncing it with a J). *For those who don’t know, this ‘J’ sounds like an ‘H’ and the ‘é’ is also pronounced because it is a Spanish name. After all these years, we still have a good laugh at her expense (Sorry Ms. A) and this TikTok video I mentioned portrayed the same joke and then some.
I shared the video with another friend of mine, Ms. M, and she replied, “I always pronounce it with a ‘J’. If they want it to be called Hosé, then write ‘H’… it’s as simple as that. How can they write ‘J’ and expect everyone to pronounce ‘H’ eh?” She went on to complain about the English language and said, “Put a ‘K’ here a ‘K’ there and say hush the ‘K’ is silent. Seriously crazy!” She also suggested that this could be a topic to write on, and here I am writing about English being a confusing language. Thank you, Ms. M.
From the time I started planning this article, two movies and a television show have been flashing through my mind, all classics in their own right — Chupke Chupke and My Fair Lady, and Mind Your Language. I have watched Chupke Chupke numerous times and have most of the dialogues embedded in my memory. Here’s one that fits the context; the hero, disguised as a driver, talks to his employer about why he doesn’t like English.
Employer: Angrezi jaante ho? (Do you know English?)
Hero: Hamein ye bhasha pasand hi nahi hai sahib. Bahut hi avaigyanik bhasha hain. (Sir, I don’t like this language at all. It is a very unscientific language.)
The hero bugs his employer to teach him English and as part of the learning, asks a very valid doubt,
Hero: Angrezi mein pneumonia ‘P’ se, matlab ‘Pa’ se shuru hotha hain; aise hi phthisis bhi ‘Pa’ se aarambh hotha hain tho ise ‘P’neumonia aur ‘P’hthisis kyon nahi kehte? (Loosely translated to: “In English, P is silent in the words pneumonia and phthisis, why don’t we pronounce them with the ‘P’ as ‘P’neumonia and ‘P’hthisis?)
I think my friend’s complaints were valid. Even literary greats like George Bernard Shaw have said that “English is the easiest language to speak badly.” Where does that leave us, non-native speakers of the tongue? There have been many instances when my husband has asked me why a particular word was spelled one way and pronounced differently… leaving me stumped. He has even taunted me many a times saying, “You should know, you have a Master’s in English Literature.” My standard, rather unsatisfactory, response has been, “Unfortunately, I only learned literature. I did not create the language nor was I involved in making the rules of spelling and pronunciation.”
In conclusion, all I have to say is that English can be confusing, even for seasoned users. The numerous accents and dialects used around the globe don’t make it any easier either. Which accent do we follow, which is correct? To each his/her own, I guess, as long the person on the other side can understand what you’re saying.
And coming to think of it, “Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell?” — Anonymous.