The Illogic of English Spelling

Standurd Inglish

Modem English probably began as a pidgin or trade language between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes of the English Danelaw. Much of its coherence was lost after the Norman invasion, with a host of Norman-French words being added. And finally an East Midlands dialect managed to acquire the status of the standard tongue. This was mainly because this dialect’s linguistic area included Oxford, Cambridge and the upper classes in London.

What I am trying to say is that there is nothing particularly correct about standard English. And it is wrong to push it as such. It is no better or worse than other dialects, though it does have the drawback of having lost ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, the second person singular. Its spelling is a joke. Try saying ‘one island, two women, three wolves, four hours, sufficiently dangerous‘. Try saying the words according to standard English rules, as if these were unfamiliar words.[1]

The great merit of English is the simple fact that it is indeed a standard, the only truly global language. Latin was never much spoken outside Western Europe and its colonies, and is a dead tongue. Chinese has the greatest number of native speakers, but is almost unknown to most of the peoples of the world. Esperanto has a West European bias, and also has such oddities as seeing a mother as a fem-ale father. Spanish, Portuguese or French could easily have won out as the global language, but they didn’t.  The success of first Britain and then America has established Global English as a fact of life.

Teachers should concentrate on the actual merits of Global English. It is no more or less correct that any of its rivals. But it is the standard means of communication between different peoples. Being native speakers of English is the main surviving asset this country has, and children should certainly be taught to speak in a way that will be comprehensible to other users of Global English. This should not be confused with accent snobbery. Nor is it incompatible with keeping up the various regional dialects, at least as a local means of communication.

This is from Newsnotes May 1993, in Issue 35 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at and