Britlish

The Chaos

Vocabulary | Poetry | Literature | IPA Symbols | Listenings

Vocabulary

Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.

Poetry

Because of their structure, poems are a great way of learning about the rhythm of the English language. In these Activities you will be able to listen to poetry, read it, and then improve your knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols, thus improving your pronunciation. The Activities also include information about the poets and some background to the writing of the poem. Finally, you will have the chance to test how much you have learned about the vocabulary and other aspects of the poems through some interactive exercises.

Literature

Some students like to sit back and listen to some interesting English. It doesn't get much more interesting than some of the old classics from English literature. These Activities have been created to help you get the best from the vocabulary found in some of the old classics. As you listen and read your way through these Activities, you will also broaden your understanding of English culture.

IPA Symbols

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation that was devised in the 19th century as a standardised way of representing the sounds of speech in written form. The British English IPA chart consists of 44 symbols representing the pure vowels (monophthongs), the gliding vowels (diphthongs), and the consonant sounds of spoken British English. The Britlish Library contains a wealth of Activities to help you to learn, remember, and use the British English IPA symbols efficiently whether you are a student or a teacher.

Listenings

Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.  

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The Absurdity of English Spelling and Pronunciation.  English spelling and pronunciation appears to have been devised by a lunatic. The absurdity of English spelling has inspired many teachers and writers to demonstrate just how ridiculously complicated it is. Chief among these was Gerard Nolst Trenité, who wrote the oft-quoted poem, The Chaos. I first transcribed the entire poem into IPA symbols, double checking the accuracy of the IPA transcript, then fed the IPA transcript through an AI speech synthesis program to produce the most accurate rendition of the poem possible.  

The Chaos

(1922)

Gerard Nolst Trenité

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.

Have you ever yet endeavoured

To pronounce revered and severed,

   Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,

   Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.

   Blood and flood are not like food,

   Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,

Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

   Discount, viscount, load and broad,

   Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?

Right! Your pronunciation's OK.

   Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

   Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?

Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.

   Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

   Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,

Now: position and transition;

   Would it tally with my rhyme

   If I mentioned paradigm?

 

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,

But cease, crease, grease and greasy?

   Cornice, nice, valise, revise,

   Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,

Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,

   You'll envelop lists, I hope,

   In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You'll have it!

Affidavit, David, davit.

   To abjure, to perjure. Sheik

   Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,

Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

   We say hallowed, but allowed,

   People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover.

   Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

   Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label.

   Petal, penal, and canal,

   Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit

Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",

   But it is not hard to tell

   Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,

Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

   Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

   Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour

Has the a of drachm and hammer.

   Pussy, hussy and possess,

   Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants

Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

   Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,

   Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

"Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker",

Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor",

   Making, it is sad but true,

   In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,

Neither does devour with clangour.

   Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,

   Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,

Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.

   Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,

   Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,

Make the latter rhyme with eagle.

   Mind! Meandering but mean,

   Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,

You say mani-(fold) like many,

   Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

   Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring

Rhyme with herring or with stirring?

   Prison, bison, treasure trove,

   Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald

Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.

   Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

   Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don't be down, my own, but rough it,

And distinguish buffet, buffet;

   Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,

   Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling

Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.

   Evil, devil, mezzotint,

   Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention

To such sounds as I don't mention,

   Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,

   Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,

Though I often heard, as you did,

   Funny rhymes to unicorn,

   Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,

I don't want to speak of Cholmondeley.

   No. Yet Froude compared with proud

   Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,

Tripod, menial, denial,

   Troll and trolley, realm and ream,

   Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely

May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,

   But you're not supposed to say

   Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid

Worthless documents? How pallid,

   How uncouth he, couchant, looked,

   When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,

Paramour, enamoured, flighty,

   Episodes, antipodes,

   Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don't monkey with the geyser,

Don't peel 'taters with my razor,

   Rather say in accents pure:

   Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,

Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,

   Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,

   Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you

More than r, ch or w.

   Say then these phonetic gems:

   Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,

There are more but I forget 'em-

   Wait! I've got it: Anthony,

   Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit

Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;

   With and forthwith, one has voice,

   One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;

Then say: singer, ginger, linger.

   Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

   Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,

Parry, tarry fury, bury,

   Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

   Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,

Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

   Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

   Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual,

   Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

   Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

   Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

   Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,

Science, conscience, scientific;

   Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

   Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,

Next omit, which differs from it

   Bona fide, alibi

   Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

   Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

   Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion,

   Rally with ally; yea, ye,

   Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,

Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

   Never guess-it is not safe,

   We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,

Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

   Face, but preface, then grimace,

   Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;

   Ear, but earn; and ere and tear

   Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often

Which may be pronounced as orphan,

   With the sound of saw and sauce;

   Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?

Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

   Respite, spite, consent, resent.

   Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,

   Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

   Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,

S of news (compare newspaper),

   G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,

   I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,

Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.

   Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

   Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-

Is a paling, stout and spiky.

   Won't it make you lose your wits

   Writing groats and saying "grits"?

It's a dark abyss or tunnel

Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,

   Islington, and Isle of Wight,

   Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don't you think so, reader, rather,

Saying lather, bather, father?

   Finally, which rhymes with enough,

   Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup...

My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

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