Pinning down the shifting phonetics of English (2)

Last week, we saw that spelling in English is rather less straightforward than in Setswana. That is why, in primary school, children learn to read and enunciate English words firstly through phonics (that is, a method of teaching the ‘art’ of reading, pronunciation and spelling based on the phonetic spelling of ordinary words).

The terms ‘phonics’ and ‘phonetics’ are based on the Greek term phono, which means ‘sound’…thus alluding to the process of enunciation. In this particular mini-series, however – this being the second and final instalment – we specifically addressed ‘phonemes’ (defined last week) that, in English, involved compound letters…concentrating particularly on vowels that, in English, sound-shift because of the appendage of an ‘e’ in their spelling: for example in ‘cage’ where the ‘a’ sound-shifts from ah (or eh) to ei, and in ‘kite’ where the ‘i’ sound-shifts from ee to ai. When we looked deeper into such ‘strange’ spellings that do not look quite like they enunciate, we found that such spelling typically hid the ancient way in which such words – if they also happen to be proto-terms – were most probably pronounced, and that Setswana helps uncover that. We must pause, here,  to note that you might not find the word ‘proto-term’ in any dictionary or study of linguistics: it is a term I coined to express what linguistics is officially doubtful about: that there was once indeed an ancient, universally-common mother-language we once all spoke…exactly as alluded to in Genesis 11. However, and contrary to the official position of linguistics, I have not only unearthed distinct vestiges of that protolanguage, but have found that Setswana is, in all probability, the closest living language to that now-lost mother-language.

This week we start off by looking at proto-terms that are a compound of two vowels. An example of this is the oe in ‘toe’ (the tallest, biggest foot digit). In English, the ‘toe’ is pronounced as tou, but we can definitively relate the proto-term to toe (‘peak, most prominent, primary’, now (se)tlhoe in modern Setswana). What we must immediately note here is that because the ‘o’ and the ‘e’ in oe are enunciated separately, they compound to give us the labial (lip-based articulation) we. And that is how, typically, the phoneme is spelt in current Setswana…although the older spelling oe is still retained in Sesotho. Another example of where the proto-term enunciation was truer to the English spelling is the au in ‘paucity’ (‘scarcity, dearth, lack of’).

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Women's bodies are not a man's playground!

In most of these cases, all this violence is done in the name of love! Love is a beautiful thing and no one who claims to love another can ever wish harm on the object of their affection let alone inflict pain upon them.A few weeks ago, the nation was shaken following the gruesome murder of two little innocent souls by their father, who after that painful act committed suicide. One of the biggest challenges that we face as a nation is that we...

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