The trouble with English

As the Department of English, University of Ilorin, under the Headship of Dr Abdullahi S. Abubakar, organises its First National Conference on the theme, “Dynamics of Language, Literature and Culture in a New Age” this week (April 23-26, 2018), it is auspicious to focus on English and the need to understand the desirability of always keeping oneself in form. This is because the language is always evolving and the conference offers a rare opportunity to everyone to know the trends.

For example, before you finish reading this essay, it is possible that a new word emanating from the blogosphere, which may give you migraine, has been added to the language. This is so because a new word is added to the English language every two hours with around 4,000 words added every year. Apart from this, unlike several languages where what you write is the same thing you pronounce, the English language represents various sounds with the same sets of letters and the same sets of letters represent different sounds. That’s weird, isn’t it?

If I may give you just two examples to illustrate the two points, “ough” is pronounced in nine different ways and all of them are represented in this sentence: “a rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.” Then, the sound /i:/ can be spelled in seven ways as represented in this sentence: “he believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas.”

The most receptive and dynamic language in the world, the English language boasts of a vocabulary of about a million words. The English corpus itself, made up of words, technical terms, scientific names and a pot-pourri of other words you won’t come across in a lifetime from various disciplines, contains more than two and a half billion words. How does one cope with such a deluge of words? Yet, this is the language the world cannot do without and some people deal with at a professional level.