Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My cousin Audra wants to know about funky slang spelling (would you be more or less likely to read this if you knew there'll be swear words?)

cuz I've been known to spell things funkily. I guess some people expect English professors to know how to spell. Confession: I was never that type of English professor.

However, since I am AMAZINGLY bored, I will write a post about SPELLING! It's more exciting than it sounds, though. Blood, guts, class wars, insanity... Oh, wait, the insanity part is just about the OED.

Question One: Why does English have such funky spelling?

Well, don't quote me on this because I just had major surgery and am weaning off pain medicine. I may or may not remember my English language history right.

But a long, long time ago, English used to be a Germanic language. We call this period in language history Old English. Contrary to popular belief, Shakespeare did not speak Old English. Beowulf did. But I think he was fictional.

Then came the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans spoke a Latinate language, similar to French. Not, like, similar enough that you'd *recognize* it if you spoke French, of course. Not that you'd recognize Old English, either.

Well, now there was a situation where the Normans were the ruling class and the Germanic Old English was the language of the plebeian masses.

The thing about language is that it changes. It evolves to suit the requirements of the society that uses it. With a Norman ruling class and a Germanic peasant class, the language eventually evolved into what we academicky people call "Middle English." Shakespeare did NOT speak Middle English. And if I were to speak Middle English at you, you wouldn't understand it, either. Ooooo! I think I'll have Tom speak some for you!

The fun thing about Middle English and the whole Norman/Germanic split is swear words! This is a tricky lesson to go over at BYU, but the reason that we have the swear words we do goes right back to the Normans and their peasants. See whoever is in charge becomes the more "refined" or "dignified" language. Queen's English, right? Even if your monarch is a jerk, people tend to go all sycophantic around them. So the words that the ruling classes used became "refined" and the words that the peasants used became "dirty."


defaecate: a Latinate word for voiding


sh*t: a Germanic word for same


canine: Latinate

b*tch: Germanic

I could go on, but I won't because we're family friendly here. Sort of.

The thing about Middle English is that they invented the printing press (at least in the West) while they were speaking Middle English. And the most fascinating thing is, back then they spelled English the way it sounded. Novel, right?!

Middle English still had some degenerated versions of case inflections in it, back from when it was a Germanic language. So the silent 'e' at the end of some words? (Like 'case' and 'some'!) Those were actually degraded case inflections and they would have been pronounced.

But for some friggin reason, some of the very first Grammar Nazi's decided to come to play during the same time. It kind of had to do with the rise of a middle class. The split between peasant and royalty was pretty simple back in Beowulf's day. But during Middle English times, you started to have people who weren't exactly classy and who weren't exactly trashy. And, well, what then? How do you prove you're not riff raff? Some super smart dude decided, "I know! I'll prove how classy I am because I'll SPELL properly!!" Blah on them. Because EVERYONE wants to prove how classy they are. And because of the printing press, that meant a whole heck of a lot of people decided to spell properly because no one wanted to be a part of the icky plebeian masses.

So English spelling froze in time.

But language keeps on changing.

And one of the changes (among many) was that we didn't need case inflections at all, so we just stopped pronouncing those pesky e's. (Didn't stop *spelling* them, though. Cuz we're classy like that.) Another super fun one that happened sometime between the 1400's and 1500's was what's called "The Great Vowel Shift." Academics like to say it like that cuz it sounds dirty. All it means is people started to pronounce vowels different.

So Middle English became Early Modern English. And YES! Shakespeare spoke Early Modern English. So did King James. You can actually understand most of Early Modern English, though there are plenty of places that it's different. That whole "avoid the very appearance of evil" thing, for example? Does not mean what you think it means.

Eventually, Early Modern English became Modern English. But, you have to remember there are no clean lines. Language evolves slowly and is totally influenced by culture.

And what is the great cultural influence over language today? Technology. Texting, IMing, Twitter, all of that. IT (double capital left on purpose because there's two meanings to that word now!) made people tired of having to spell out archaic spellings just for the sake of being proper. If you only have 140 characters in which to say what you want to say, you sure as heck don't want to waste your time transcribing remnants of case inflections that are literally meaningless now.

So now we occasionally go back to spelling things the same way we pronounce them!

Halleluja. If we keep it up, language scholars from the future will thank you because then they'll actually know how we said stuff.

So back to what Audra wanted: a tutorial about "slang" spelling.

The key to spelling something "slang": spell it the way it sounds.

that's prettymuch all there is to it.

I have a couple of words I spell my own way.


(lots of these added post edit with y'alls help.)

I can't think of any more right now. Can y'all think of more? Ooo. Y'all. I have a long grammar rant about why I use that word, too.


Audra said...

LOVE the post - love the history, but I have a question.

You said: "That whole "avoid the very appearance of evil" thing, for example? Does not mean what you think it means. "

What does it mean? (Call me dense)

And y'all your homies are waiting for the rant.

Audra said...

ya or yeh for YES?

yeah or yah or yea for hooRAY?

Hmm? Can't think of any more question? I hope you get bored soon to help me out.

Kerry said...

which slang you use probably depends on where you're from and how they pronounce things. so, "ya" might work for yes if you're in SoCal. How do they say it in AZ? Sometimes I'll say "yup."

And I say "YAY!" for Hooray.

See next post for the appearance of evil and maybe tomorrow I'll talk about y'all.

nicole said...

My favorite slang spelling of yours - that I've co-opted - is yanno. Yanno?

Audra said...

THANKS! Hope you are feeling better.

Juliana Stewart said...

Hahaha interesting, and here I thought English was purely derived from the Germanic languages!