The Chaos poem- a test for English pronunciation.
Important note: I know that some people in this forum really don’t like long posts. Most of this post is the beginning of the poem in the title of this post.
Recently, I found a response to a post noting how strange and annoying it is that the sound ‘ough’ can be pronounced in many different ways. This reminded me of my favourite poem, ‘The Chaos’. If you can pronounce it all out loud, you are in the top 10% of English speakers (but I would note that it is very long). Although I will leave a link to it at the end of the post, here is the beginning:
Dearest creature in creation Studying English pronunciation, I will teach you in my verse Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy, Make your head with heat grow dizzy; Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear; Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet, Make my coat look new, dear, sew it! Just compare heart, hear and heard, Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain (Mind the latter how it's written). Made has not the sound of bade, Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you With such words as vague and ague, But be careful how you speak, Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir; Woven, oven, how and low, Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Say, expecting fraud and trickery: Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore, Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles, Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing, Same, examining, but mining, Scholar, vicar, and cigar, Solar, mica, war and far.
From "desire": desirable- admirable from "admire", Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier, Topsham, brougham, renown, but known, Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral, Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel. Gertrude, German, wind and wind, Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather, Reading, Reading, heathen, heather. This phonetic labyrinth Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Full poem- http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html. I would recommend to anyone to try reading it out loud, even if you consider your English to be excellent.
The next challenge - memorise it and recite it correctly in five minutes. ;-)
The pronunciation of some words would differ from British English to American English. While I don't see any of the words which typically distinguish the two (colour vs. color, etc), The inclusion of "Reading" twice makes me think one of them refers to the town of that name which is pronounced, well, oddly. This makes me think it's British in origin.
A few words are just obscure to the point that many native speakers may not recognize them. Examples include sward, ague, Terpsichore (which I haven't looked up yet, but is evidently a proper name) and plinth.
Terpsichore (which I haven't looked up yet, but is evidently a proper name)
In Greek mythology, Terpsichore (/tərpˈsɪkəriː/; Τερψιχόρη, "delight in dancing") is one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus. Her name comes from the Greek words τέρπω ("delight") and χορός ("dance").
Yes, I looked it up later. It was curiously in the spellcheck dictionary. At least, I thought it was curious.
Don't you have plinths in the USA? This is hardly an obscure word in Britain (no doubt it's not high on the frequency list, but everyone knows what it means). What do you call a pedestal upon which a statue sits in US English?
I think the poem was written by a Dutchman who did indeed spend quite some time in the UK, incidentally.
"What do you call a pedestal upon which a statue sits in US English?"
Probably a pedestal. :)
As an Australian I think I've only heard that word once ever and that I think was on TV (I didn't know what the word even meant). In Australia.. a statue sitting on something, I think most of us would call the thing it's sitting on "a stand" or "the base"
LOL. "plinths" As an Australian
Considering all the ridiculous words Australians use, I feel this is a case of the pot calling the billycan black...
Thanks for posting and the link.
Good reality check for us English speakers, thinking our target languages are so difficult...
As a non-native English speaker this was an absolute hell..... thank you! Gotta practice my pronunciation now :P
Oh, lover of long words (after all, you're a sesquipedalian), tell me where did you originally find this? It reminds me of mouse and mice, louse and lice, house and ... or is it just goose and geese, and from there to moose and ...?
Thank you for your post (and also your screen name - chuckle)!
It was in a news story that I read several years ago, then forgot about. I don’t think that I would be able to find it again easily.
Thanks for posting that! I have seen it before, but now actually went through part of it properly and checked pronunciations for words I wasn't sure about. It's so long that I'll go through the rest properly later. Especially for non native speakers like me, some words can be wrongly pronounced for a while if you just pick it up somewhere in writing and think it must rhyme with another word that looks similar, so it's always good to check up some at times.
I also saw the post with the words with "ough" in them. I was lazy at the time when reading it, but should maybe go back and check up the pronunciations, because there it was said that they were like nine different ways of pronouncing that, while I recognised something like 5-6 ways.
Some examples I checked now were fuchsia and fiend, which I remember wondering about before too. Things I've checked before that have tripped me up were at least turquoise and sew. So I don't have to say tur... tur... that blue-green thing. And I'm pretty sure I've talked about a sueing machine a couple of times. when being confused about which way it's pronounced.
This is great haha
I am a native speaker of English. God bless those non-native speakers who are able to master this language the rules of pronunciation.
Thanks for posting this.
A wonderful poem! Though I admit as a non native English speaker I struggled quite a bit
English is my most fluent language (being my first) and I've never been so tormented in my life by trying to pronounce words correctly.
Well that was fun, I even learnt a couple of new words (native English speaker), bonus! Thanks :)
This was fun. I like to think of my English as pretty good given how much I read, but it did crack me up to find I've been pronouncing "bade" wrong all my life (apparently I've only ever encountered it in written text and not heard it pronounced.)
Quinoa needs to make it into that poem. I encounter people tripping over its pronunciation pretty often. It's just spelled so weird.
Well, I'm still having trouble accepting "bade's" pronunciation after checking it on dictionary.com. I think I'm going to try to find a dictionary that agrees with us. :)
It's against one of the few spelling rules in English that's remotely reliable; single syllable, ends with "e", the vowel should be long.
Huzzah!! Lol. Well, I'm glad I was pronouncing it right all along! (American English, anyway).
I'm American and this was hard. English is so confusing. We should just make Spanish the global language of the New Order.
I find Spanish equally confusing, however, so I'm not so sure that's the answer. But it would certainly force me to put more work into my Spanish lessons if the world switched to Spanish as the global language. ;)
Very clever, thanks for posting it! This is a nightmare for people who don't know english fluently for sure, haha. English is incredibly confusing in that way!
Read the first couple of verses out loud. My head is already going “that can’t be right”! But it is. Trippy.
This reminds me of a cute riddle I learned as a kid: what common English word can be spelled "ghoti"? The answer is "fish": gh pronounced f as in laugh, o pronounced i as in women, ti pronounced sh as in nation.
Hey look, a tongue twister to test one's English to! I'll be sure to share this with my language partners; it'll certainly provide some interesting conversation. Thanks for sharing! :)
Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.
As a native English speaker just reading it through in my head, I had troubles making sure the voice in my head read it correctly never mind aloud. Makes me really think about how hard non-native speakers have to think about pronunciation, and how weird it is for it to seem semi-natural to me and other native speakers.
That was hard and as a native English speaker.. I was surprised to find I failed in reading a poem.