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Author Topic: Learning English as easy as pie, but its spelling needs to be more logical  (Read 4280 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: January 30, 2010, 01:18:31 AM »

We have three very interesting readings on language this week, the first on how modern technology has made it very easy to learn English and any other language, the second on the possibility of simplifying the notoriously illogical English spelling system, and the third on how infants learn the mother tongue of their parents.

Easy Does It. Thanks to digital tehnology and the web, anyone can now learn English and just about any language with remarkable ease. In “The Web Way to Learn a Language,” an article he wrote for the January 27, 2010 issue of The New York Times, Eric A. Taub surveys today’s wide range of Internet-based language learning programs and sites, among them Rosetta Stone (, TellMeMore (, Livemocha (, and Babbel ( “Learning a language sometimes seems as difficult as dieting,” Taub says. “The solution is to figure out how to stay interested after the novelty wears off.”

Read Eric Taub’s “The Web Way to Learn a Language” in The New York Times now!

Tough and illogical. In his On Language column for the January 24, 2010 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Ammon Shea, consulting editor of American dictionaries for Oxford University Press, reviews the efforts of linguists over the years to change the notoriously illogical English spelling system. He says: “The fact that through, rough, dough, plough, hiccough and trough all end with -ough, yet none of them sound the same as any of the others, is the sort of thing that has been vexing poets and learners of English for quite some time.” This issue has been extensively studied and argued over, Shea observes, but there has been an almost complete lack of success in effecting any substantial progress. He then speculates that text messaging may just hold the key to the reform of English spelling. 

Read Ammon Shea’s “The Keypad Solution” in The New York Times Magazine now!

International baby talk. In his Watch Your Language column for The Dominion Post in New Zealand, Paul Warren of the Victoria University school of linguistics and applied language studies ponders the claim of some linguists that from the first days of their lives, babies cry in the language their parents speak. Linguists often comment that babies are “born international,” Warren says, by which “we mean that all normally developing babies have the potential to learn any language. They are not genetically programmed to learn their parents’ language, but rather to learn any language, depending on what they are exposed to.” To check out these theories for themselves, he suggests to new parents to start recording their day-old babies now.

Read Paul Warren’s “Out of the mouths of babies” in The Dominion Post now!


Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You: Chiasmus and a World of Quotations That Say What They Mean and Mean What They Say
By Mardy Grothe, PhD
[Book Cover: Never Let a Fool Kiss You…]
This is an illustrated collection of hundreds of chiasmus, a figure of speech that reverses the word order of language to achieve a poignant or hilarious effect, as in this memorable line from Antigone by the 5th century Greek dramatist Sophocles, “What greater ornament to a son than a father’s glory, or to a father than a son’s honorable conduct?”, and in this naughty remark by the Hollywood actress Mae West, “I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.”

(It’s unfortunate that hardly anybody among the presidential candidates for the 2010 Philippine national elections—with the possible exception of one or two, although it still remains to be seen—seems to be capable of coming up with delightful chiasmus and delivering it with enough aplomb. Alas, most of them are capable only of pro forma, voluble, and eminently forgettable campaign spiels! A chiasmus or two, whether in English or Tagalog, definitely could make their debates and individual campaign oratory much more fun and interesting—or is that trying to squeeze blood from stone? In any case, don’t let any of the fools among those candidates kiss you!)

To give you a better appreciation of chiasmus as a form of heightened language, I am posting below an essay I wrote about it over six years ago in The Manila Times:

Chiasmus as Consummate Wordplay
By Jose A. Carillo

Ever wondered how some people have moved us or inspired us to do great things their way, or mesmerized us, put blinders on our eyes, then made us do irrational things that we would never have dreamed of doing had we not been under their spell?

If so, then the speakers—unless they had recited great poetry—must have been using chiasmus. This figure of speech towers above all the other rhetorical devices in its ability to lower our built-in defenses and arouse our emotions. We could very well call chiasmus the linguistic incarnation of charisma—that rare and elusive power of certain people to inspire fierce loyalty and devotion among their followers.

The use of chiasmus dates back to antiquity. In the 6th century B.C., the extremely wealthy Lydian king Croesus went on record using it: “In peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.” Such wisdom in only 13 words! Is it possible that he became fabulously wealthy because he was so adept at chiasmus and—by implication—at compelling people’s obedience? Or did he become so good at coining chiasmus because his wealth had allowed him the leisure to craft it?

Now take a look at this familiar line from U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, on which so many English-language elocution students had labored investing their own vocal energies over the years: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Just 17 words, but they give us the feeling of an immensely satisfying four-hour lecture on good citizenship. Then see chiasmus at work in this charming line by the English physician and author Havelock Ellis: “Charm is a woman’s strength; strength is a man’s charm.” And, one more time, hark to this timeless sage advice from Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”

By now you must have already discovered for yourself the fundamental structure and mechanism of chiasmus:  it reverses the order of words in two parallel phrases. Take this chiasmus by the legendary Hollywood actress Mae West: “I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.” “Looked over” is “overlooked” in reverse, making the speaker wickedly but deliciously imply that she enjoys being ogled at. Or take this arresting advertising slogan of a Philippine insurance company: “If someone depends on you, you can depend on Insular Life.” By some linguistic alchemy, the parallel word reversals arouse our senses, disarming us so we readily accept their claim as true. Chiasmus has this power because it heightens the sense of drama in language by surprise. It is no wonder that it holds the distinction of being mankind’s all-time vehicle for expressing great truths and, conversely, also great untruths.

Most types of chiasmus reverse the words of familiar sayings in a felicitously parallel way, as in the French proverb, “Love makes time pass, time makes love pass.” For chiasmus to succeed, however, the two insights offered by the word reversals should both be true and survive subsequent scrutiny. (They could also be untrue, and therein lies the danger in chiasmus in the hands of demagogues and charlatans.) But chiasmus need not be an exact reversal of a familiar saying. Take what the English writer Richard Brinksley said on beholding for the first time the woman whom he was to later marry: “Why don’t you come into my garden? I would like my roses to see you.” This implied chiasmus cleverly reverses this usual invitation of proud homemakers: “I’d like you to see my roses.” And chiasmus also nicely takes the form of questions, as in this line from Antigone by the 5th century Greek dramatist Sophocles: “What greater ornament to a son than a father’s glory, or to a father than a son’s honorable conduct?"

If chiasmus is this pleasurable, does it mean that we should spend a lot of time composing it ourselves to impress people? Not at all! Chiasmus is meant to be used very sparingly, to be reserved only for those very special moments when saying them can truly spell a make-or-break difference in our lives, like preparing for battle, wooing the hearts and minds of people, ruing abject failure, or celebrating great success. In our everyday lives, it is enough for us to spot a good chiasmus so we can savor its wisdom, and to have the wisdom to know when we are simply being conned with fallacy or propaganda masquerading as great truth. (October 16, 2003)

From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, October 16, 2003, © 2003 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2010, 01:21:05 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged


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« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2011, 06:08:58 PM »

English is very easy language but you have to take  care of spelling because the meaning of the spelling is change, if we make a mistake. SO English is easy but the spellings needs to be more logical.


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« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2011, 12:58:18 PM »

  If English is "as easy as pie," why are there so many mistakes in your reply?  To speak English fluently is almost impossible, and you my friend, might find it so easy because you DON'T know it!
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