So begins Fox in Socks, by Dr Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), a series of increasingly intricate tongue-twisters. Along the way, whether Seuss intended it to or not, it illustrates many points of English pronunciation and spelling.
Each of the words has four phonemes (distinct sounds) in pronunciation, represented by three, four or five letters in spelling, so immediately there is not a direct correspondence between sound and spelling. Each of the words starts with one consonant phoneme /f/, /s/, /b/ and /n/. The first three are represented by one letter, but the last is represented by two letters kn – the k is silent. It used to be pronounced but now it isn’t (long story). (In fact, the k is silent in all English words starting with kn.)
This and the previous post are actually more about pronunciation, but I started with the title ‘Grammar’, so I may as well continue.
New socks. Two socks.
Whose socks? Sue’s socks.
Who sews whose socks?
Sue sews Sue’s socks.
Who sees who sew whose new socks, sir?
You see Sue sew Sue’s new socks, sir.
That’s not easy, Mr. Fox, sir.
Who comes? … Crow comes.
Slow Joe Crow comes.
Who sews crow’s clothes?
Sue sews crow’s clothes.
Slow Joe Crow sews whose clothes?
Sue sews socks of fox in socks now.
Slow Joe Crow sews Knox in box now.
Sue sews rose on Slow Joe Crow’s clothes.
Fox sews hose on Slow Joe Crow’s nose.
Hose goes. Rose grows.
Nose hose goes some. Crow’s rose grows some.
So begins Dr Seuss’s Fox in Socks. These four words all consist of four sounds, but in no case do the sounds and the letters match exactly (for a start, fox and box have three letters and socks has five). Ideally, a writing system for a language should correspond to the pronunciation of that language, but for various reasons this is rarely (if ever) the case for any language, and is certainly not the case for English.
English has a generally clear distinction between positive statements, negative statements, positive questions and negative questions. Statements generally contain a subject and a verb in that order, and usually together:
I am Sam (usual), Sam I am (possible)
Negative statements usually require ‘not’:
I am not Sam
We’ve gone right through the alphabet (A-M) and (N-Z) but not yet encountered every sound in the English pronunciation system, partly because some sounds are comparatively rare and less likely to be found in a book this size, but mostly because they are usually represented by two letters together. Indeed, we have already seen ‘Aunt’, ‘oiled’ and ‘owl’, and considered <ge, gi, gy> representing /dʒ/.
Consider the following sentences, especially the sounds in italics:
Camel on the ceiling
Willy Waterloo washes Warren Wiggins who is washing Waldo W oo.
Kitten. Kangaroo. Kick a kettle. Kite and a king’s kerchoo.
Vera Violet Vinn is very very very awful on her violin.
Uncle Ubb’s umbrella and his underwear, too.
(If you haven’t already, you may want to read the first part.)
Nine new neckties and a nightshirt and a nose.
is usually /n/. Here we have it at the beginning of words (it can also go in the middle and at the end). (, which is always /n/, is also possible in the middle or at the end of words, but not at the beginning.)
Oscar’s only ostrich oiled an orange owl today.
For me, there are 5 different vowels here. ‘Oscar’, ‘ostrich’ and ‘orange’ have /ɒ/ (a “short o”), ‘only’ has /oʊ/ (a “long o”), ‘oiled’ has /ɔɪ/, owl has /aʊ/ and ‘today’ has a schwa /ə/ (in quick, informal speech, at least; I probably pronounce it carefully as ‘tudeɪ’). It is possible that Dr Seuss had a FATHER/BOTHER merger, and pronounced ‘Oscar’, ‘ostrich’ and ‘orange’ as (approximately) ‘Ahscar’, ‘ahstrich’ and ‘ahrange’.
Painting pink pyjamas. Policeman in a pail. Peter Pepper’s puppy. And now Papa’s in a pail. Continue reading
When I was a child, we had several Dr Seuss books, but they weren’t a particular feature of my early reading. Over the past few years, I have returned to some of his books to find material for lessons and for general linguistic interest. ‘Let’s start at the very beginning … when you read you begin with A, B, C’, so the first book I’ll look at here (though I haven’t used it in class) is ‘Dr Seuss’ ABC’. In particular, I am looking at the differences between spelling and pronunciation. I use < > to mean ‘spelling’ and / / to mean ‘pronunciation’. I have split the alphabet into two – it’s well over a thousand words already.