5.17.2005

tpyos rlue!1

It took me half an hour to figure out with this comment meant:
At 10:41 AM, Nicholas Sanders said...

Do your peculiar understanding of "ethnography" and the "d" mysteriously added to what is otherwise privilege merit the description invented usage?

Nick

I kept thinking, is "priviledged" really that disconcerting a word? And finally, upon closer reading, I realized that Nick wasn't refering to the final d, but the one before the g, which most people say doesn't really exist.

Here's an interesting fact: on average, languages tend to have about 5 or 6 vowel sounds, but English has 13. Englsih ash one of the most diverse histories of any natural alnguage. We mix words with Germanic and Latin roots more or less indisccriminantly (although there are those who claim that Latin has been priviledged since the Norman invasion in 1066 as the language of the ruling class). "ough" at the end of a word has 5 different pronunciations that i can think of right this moment. The letter "g" has two different word-initial pronunciations depending on what type of vowel follows it. Most english speakers don't know that there are two separate sounds made by the spelling "th." (One is voiced, and the other isn't; think about the difference between "thigh" and "thy"). And so on, and so forth.

You know who sounded dumb back in the day? People who dropped the "b" in dumb and said "dum" instead of "dum-b." But I'm glad people started making that mistake, because i'd be jjust a little angrier if i had to go around saying "dumb" and "bomb" and "thumb" the way they're spelled. And who do we think sounds dumb now? The rappers who drop the "g" in earing to make it rhyme with parent? Southerners who say "an" when we think they should be saying "and"? Those two changes are happening as we speak, and people who don't like them should call them "dumB".

So why is privileDge a point of contention? Englsih spelling doesn't match pronunciation; everyone who read the post could tell what I meant; there is little chance that my error cause confusion between two possible words; and, raedres of eglinsh can decphier wrods in wihch all hte itenral ltetres are rearragned. so why do i flisnch every time i'm not sure how to spell a word? Why do i fear tha tmy ideas will be taken less seriously if they're perfectly understandable, but I don't spell them correctly?

This comment (and I don't mean to pick on Nick, there are untold millions who feel the same way he does) has taken away my priviledge-with-a-D block. And i'd like it bcak. From here on out, that arbitrary d will mark an arbitrary difference. Let's say that privilege is a noun and priviledge is a verb. Simple? "it's my privilege to meet you. i priviledge your company most highly..."

And why not? The porgress of language is built on "mis"understanding, "mis"pronunciation, and the people who decide what's right and wrong, what's priviledged or not, are those who have privilege. illiteracy, lack of knowledge of spelling, and so on, indicate a lack of privilege (read: education, social standing), and if someone doesn't have enough privilege, people are less likely to listen to their ideas.

6 comments:

Nicholas Sanders said...

The d question in relation to the title of your blog was intended to be amusing - the real worry remains your equating ethnographic with racist.

language said...

Wow, I don't think I've seen anyone get quite so indignant about being called on a misspelling (however jokily)! In case you're serious, spelling is not like pronunciation -- it's codified by the dictionary and not dependent on how each individual speaks (otherwise written English would become much more difficult to understand). There are gray areas (like "gray/gray"), but privilege isn't one of them: it ain't got no d. (I speak as one who earns his living fixing misspellings and other written malfeasances.)

--LH

Seb (pedantically) said...

"In case you're serious, spelling is not like pronunciation -- it's codified by the dictionary and not dependent on how each individual speaks (otherwise written English would become much more difficult to understand)."

Boo! Hiss! (In a good-natured way!)

I think this is missing the point a bit. First, the difference between spelling and pronunciation is one of degree, not kind, if it exists at all. Pronunciation is often codified in dictionaries along with spelling, and is not any more dependent on individual differences than, say, spelling, when you take into account different styles of handwriting. The salient units of communication (letters, phonemes) are mostly regular across the linguistic community, and cause confusion when irregular.

Meanwhile, the motivation for maintaining standards and conventions are also the same: keeping things "easy to understand."

But in both cases, it's important to note that the rules really are only conventions, in that, despite what our instincts might tell us, they are not out there ::pointing to empty space:: but in there ::pointing to several heads::.

That means that all that "it ain't got no d" can mean, really, is that "spelling it without a d" is a property held in common by a certain group of people. Choosing to not have that property is not violating cosmic linguistic law, it's just violating the community (which might very well provoke ostracism, but not for as good reasons as we often feel....)

With, of course, no intention to offend.

ACW said...

I can't make myself too outraged with spellings like "priviledge"; I side with Cristi in feeling that such quibbling is mostly an artificial, classist sort of barrier designed to make sure that only the right sort of people get into print.

However, I have two observations to bring to her attention. First, a selfish plea. I am among a sizable population, "good" spellers and fast readers, whose reading speed is enhanced by a complete and unconscious internalization of the English spelling system. I can read standardly spelled English very fast, because I have a sort of spelling lookup table very deeply memorized, so that recognizing a word is a single operation. I don't sound anything out, in other words. Nonstandard spelling slows me down. I have to pause, be it ever so briefly, to make sure that I know what word is meant, because nonstandard spellings aren't in my database and I do have to sound them out. So a nonstandard speller like Cristi (and yes, I know she was exaggerating) serves her own convenience at the expense of mine. I have no right to expect her to sacrifice her convenience for mine, but she should at least be aware of the effect so that she can decide how polite to be: for fast readers like myself, standard spelling is a welcomed courtesy.

Second, a writer who uses nonstandard spelling online places her text beyond the reach of most ordinary search strategies. A Google search for "privilege" will not turn up a page that (uniformly) spells it "priviledge", and since orthography is a convention, most searches will be based on the standard spelling. So, for example, if you have thoughts about Connecticut that you want to share, you will lose potential readers if you omit the medial c.

All that having been said, I will continue to defend your right to spell any way you see fit, and I will continue to read this blog (which I am enjoying).

Xboy said...

No one drops a "g" when they say earrin for earring. There are two different consonants, one represented by "n" and the other by "ng" because our alphabet doesn't have enough letters.

Cristi said...

You're right that there's no "n" sound in "earring." English has 3 nasal consonants: m, n, and ng. It also uses three voiced stops: b, d, and g. These sets can be matched up based on their place of articulation: ng and g are made in the throat/back of the mouth; d and n are formed by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge behind the teeth; and b and m are formed bilabially - using the lips. For each of these pairs, a nasal followed by a stop, there was once a word-final cluster that grouped the two sounds by their place of articulation: nd in "and," mb in "dumb," and [ng]g in "earring." At some point in the history of English, these stops were pronounced, more or less as they're written. The point I was making was simply that we already consider it correct to say "dum," but the orthography still represents the stop that used to be there. The same thing is happening to the other sets (nd and ngg), and the spelling will, again, hang on long after the pronunciation.

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