I have been wondering why English spelling is so difficult . The words are mostly written in one way and are pronounced quite the other way. That's not so bad and weird after all, but where does this complexity come from?
I once happened to read the following:
Although best known as a playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was an astute commentator on language and a string supporter of spelling reform for the English language. His interest in the sounds of speech can be seen in the way he tried to manipulate English spelling in his play scripts to allow the accents of his character to emerge….
….His most famous linguistic play is Pygmalion, later turned into a musical under the title of My Fair Lady. The main character, Henry Higgins, is supposedly based on two outstanding phoneticians of Shaw's period: Henry Sweet and Daniel Jones. In the play, a Cockney flower-girl becomes socially upwardly mobile when she is taught to use the speech patterns of the upper classes, thus illustrating the importance we give to accents. Shaw left money in his will to the cause of spelling reform, though little was achieved with the money.
/L. Bauer& others (2006), Language Matters, page 62/
Is English spelling awaiting reforms now?
I don't see much more chance now than a century ago that we'll reform our spelling. But I believe I can explain why it's so inconsistent; it's because English has been so heavily influenced by so many other languages. It started out as basically Germanic, but it had a heavy injection of French following the Invasion of 1066, and then of course of Latin, which itself had ingested a lot of Greek almost a millennium before that. So by the 1500s we had a basically Germanic structure with huge numbers of roots from two or three Romance languages. Then came a long period of naval exploration. Spanish took in a lot of words from other languages, too, both during this time and just before from the Moorish invasion of southern Europe, but in Spanish they did standardize their spelling; and the same with French, barring the Moors, but the French have tried hard to keep it "pure". In English, as I heard recently (it's now in my tagline file), "Not only does the English language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets." So more than half our vocabulary is from dozens of non-Germanic languages, and for the most part we've kept the original spelling for each one. That makes it very hard for a bad speller to keep track of them, but it also provides important clues to the origin and therefore to the meaning of each unknown.
Bob Bridges said
"Not only does the English language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets."
Nice quote! It's often attributed to a (possibly fictitious) "Eddy Peters". The following is reported as the original version:
“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
Reading the comments, the so called "purity of the English language" caught my eye. I do not think there is any language in the Indo-European language family or in the others that can be called pure.
I have even heard that English has borrowed some words from Armenian, though my memory now fails me to remember which words were borrowed.
I'd be surprised if there were none, asusena. We have them from most other languages, including Malay.
I don't think of "purity" as a good thing in any language—it is what it is—but I gather there are some. Japanese and Korean, for example, are said to be pretty much unrelated to any other languages. The same with Basque. But on second thought, I guess that's not the same as "purity"; if two languages are unrelated it doesn't follow that neither has recently borrowed words from the other.
I just did a quick search on "Armenian" in the Online Etymology Dictionary. It's mentioned in a few dozen entries, mostly just to compare similarities between Armenian and other Indo-European languages with words such as "moon", "gerontology", "alveolus", "ermine", "vine", "olive", "cannabis", "unguent", "quell", "caca" and the like. But a few are more direct, such as "avail" and "shish kebab".