Sounds and signs in discord

One of the greatest difficulties with English language teaching is trying to explain why English words with similar spellings can have such different sounds.

Compare for example words like though(th-oh), through (thr-oo), thorough (thur-oh) and tough (tuff).

Or why words with different spellings have the same sound, like to, too and two.

And there are moments when the words one sees are pronounced in ways one cannot predict.

Take American placenames for example…

When did Duquesne (doo-kes-nay) become doo-kaine?

Or Detroit (day-trois) become dee-troy-tuh?

There are just as many examples of this evolution of sound also evident in England itself.

Leicester, pronounced Lester

Worchester, pronounced Wooster

Towchester, pronounced Toaster

Reading, pronounced Redding

I left Landschlacht this morning, train to Zurich, Easy Jet to Gatwick, Southern Railways to Swanwick.

I am not sure whether the train’s intercom was failing but the train from Gatwick seemed filled with strange places with stranger pronunciations.

Horsham (whore shim)

Havant (haven’t)

Cosham (caution)

Fareham (farrow / pharaoh / Farrah / Fair M)

Swanwick (swan-nick)

The problem with this discrepancy between sounds and sights is that the mind begins to create images quite unlike the intended meanings of the placenames.

Are the prostitutes in Horsham shimming or is it all a sham?

What don’t they have in Havant?

Is Cosham so dangerous as to warrant caution?

Why doesn’t Chester leave Portchester if he is so poor?

Is Pharaoh Farrah Farrow, the lovely fair M, descended from Egypt or Fareham?

Did Nick the swan eat the second W in Swanwick?

It seems logic has little to do with the gap between sound and sight, but then no one ever accused us humans being as being completely rational.

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