Yes, they probably are a hassle for children - but a brief one. Children are great at learning lots of facts, and because the number of serious (yet common enough to be important) irregularities in English is very small, there's not a lot of facts to learn there. If it causes some annoyance, it's shortlived. It should be noted that most people, when they first encounter that whole "did you know that 'ough' can be pronounced seven different way!? it's insane!?" thing is to go "wow, yeah, you're right, that IS insane!"... NOT "oh god, you don't have to tell me, I remember what a hassle it was to remember how to spell 'cough'!". And as for the fact that, oh yeah, words like "have" are irregular, let alone "to"... most people have never even noticed it. I've also had the privilege* to know a child of spelling-learning age, and while a bunch of words gave her trouble, none of them were the dreaded irregular words.Xonen wrote: ↑07 May 2021 21:28
This is a good point – and one that at least I myself have probably never really considered. It does make a lot of sense, though; many of the irregularities occur in fairly common words, so they're relatively easy to memorize. Although I'm guessing they can still be a bit of an extra hassle for children when they're first learning to spell, at least (I'm assuming this was a survey of adults?).
In that regard, people get some things wrong about child learning in particular. First, children don't need to work out how a word is said, because, unlike non-native speakers, they already know how it's pronounced. They just need to remember how to spell it. And in that regard, having a memorable spelling is more important than having a regular one. It's a huge help when words are spelled with common patterns. And "cough" and "enough" ARE spelled with common patterns - it's easy to remember 'ough' as a pattern; the fact it's not always pronounced the same way is a relatively minor issue. [however, I still sometime have hesitation around words like 'taught' and 'fought', knowing whether it's augh or ough - the patterns are two similar]
The one single word my teachers put the most effort into teaching us? 'Beautiful'. I can still remember the song you're meant to sing to yourself to tell you how to spell it. Because it's that' "eau" sequence, which isn't common in English (at least, not primary school English). It's not the potential ambiguity in pronounciation that's the problem - it's remembering the order of the letters. [c.f "bureaucracy", where there's also a temptation, if you remember the odd letter sequence, to put it in the first syllable instead...]
But yeah, nobody really has a problem with 'cough' or 'enough' - but "irreverent", that's a fucking nightmare. [there is no phonetic reason it couldn't be ireverent, or irreverrent, or irreverant, or irreverrant, or whatever - the fact that the single 'v' is actually irregular is the least of its problems!]
*privilege? Also a horrible word to spell. [the schwa is 'i', but the unstressed /I/ is 'e'...] I used to have terrible spelling; experience, and Latin lessons, and a LOT of writing online, have fortunately cured most of it. But there are still words I instinctively avoid because I have to reassure myself that I know how to spell them. 90% of the time, it's schwas, and most of the rest of the time it's doubled letters...
You joke, but I was just thinking this the other day. I'd had another prod at the future of spelling reform in my SF setting, and concluded that, yes, the EU (or Europe in some form) could be an important factor in this regard. Europe has a lot of English speakers, so has reason to institute reform, but has few native speakers, so doesn't have the same ingrained resistance [N.B. fuck you, schwa in 'resistance', whom I just spelled wrongly!] to overcome. A root-and-branch reform isn't likely - they need to maintain fluency in worldwide English - but I don't think it's out of the question that they may one day develop, or adopt from someone else, some sort of optional "simple spelling" thing.In any case, removing irregularity would still have the benefit of making learning the pronunciation easier for non-native speakers. And considering the importance of English as a lingua franca, non-native speakers are a pretty important demographic... Perhaps I should start lobbying for the EU to adopt my spelling reform as its official version of written English.
[To be serious: most viable routes to reform involve simply adding voluntary alternative spellings to the dictionary for some words. First you say "we're not going to penalise people for using these 'wrong' but understandable spellings". Then you say "people are free to continue to spell everything the same way, but in order to maximise understanding among non-native speakers, we're going to use these simpler spellings in our communications". Then you say "it would be helpful if subsidised media channels also started using the new official spellings, to increase awareness of them." Then "we're going to teach these spellings as the default in schools, to speed up literacy acquisition". Then "publishers of children's books might want to use the new, simpler spellings that children are being taught". And so on...]