102 years old. And still not totally understanding English.

January 23, 2009

This little piece of genius is thanks to House Industries. It’s a great website where they offer fonts, clothing and opinions by the bucket-load.
In this film they’ve shot a gentleman called Ed Ronthaler who was 102 years old when this film was made.
He is the founder of Photo-Lettering Inc, a pioneering company involved in the setting of headlines and advertising text. They developed a number of cutting edge techniques to create a variety of optical effects, all in the days before Macs made the typesetter’s job much, much quicker.
He’s been there, seen and done it. And in this little film he demonstrates the absurdities he has noticed about the English language in all his years of working with words.

Ed's grasp of English is, indeed, the bomb.

Ed's grasp of English is, indeed, the bomb.

As he points out, the English language is the home of some mighty strange spellings.
In fact, sum dum spellings cum out in this little film.

Which led me nicely onto a piece that has been around for a little while. It concerns the imaginary attempts of the EU to standardise and simplify the way the English language works.

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty’s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phase-in plan that would be known as “Euro-English”.

In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of the “k”. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like “fotograf” 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent “e”s in the language is disgraseful, and they should go away.

By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”. During ze fifz year, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru! And zen world!

And this, in turn, reminded me of a sensational little quirk of the human brain when it is reading. Researchers at Cambridge University have spent some time investigating a phenomenon which originally started life as an urban myth. They have found that there are high levels of truth in the experiment, but that it can break down when the words get longer and people’s grasp of them is not so certain. I actually believe that if the person tested has a large vocabulary and a dexterous mind then the results hold almost no matter how long the word.
They discovered that it doesn’t matter what order the letters of a word are in, as long as the first and last letters are in the right place, you can still read it. It’s to do with the fact that the human brain doesn’t actually read every word. It scans them and uses recognition of the length of word and the positioning of it in regard to the other words in the sentence to determine the message. Try it yourself with the body of text below.

The hamun biran is an azmanig tinhg.

The hamun biran is an azmanig tinhg.

All in all the English language is a strange beast. But it’s rich and vibrant and full of surprises that continue to make it a joy to explore and use.

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