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The Chaos - The Absurdity of English Spelling and Pronunciation

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Any student of English will have quickly become aware that the spelling of English appears to have been devised by a lunatic. The few spelling “rules” that exist are of little use, as most have multiple exceptions. 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, which is the subject of this English lesson.

The first version of The Chaos was 146 lines long and appeared in the author’s 1920 English teaching textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen. The version you see here has 274 lines and, according to the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, “This version is essentially the author’s own final text… A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred.”

Many attempts to recite the poem The Chaos can be found on the Internet. Listening to many of them, I realised that few, if any of the readers managed to pronounce each and every word correctly. Many of the recordings are of the shorter, 146-line poem from the original 1920’s book, or use an American accent. I wanted to produce a British English version of the most comprehensive version of the poem I could find. I determined to produce a “definitive” version of this famous poem using the latest technology to ensure accuracy.

To lessen the possibility of error, I decided to first transcribe the entire poem into IPA symbols. I double checked the accuracy of the IPA transcript with all the extant sources of the poem that I could muster. I then fed the IPA transcript through an artificial neural net speech synthesis program to produce the most accurate rendition of the poem possible. I hope you are as pleased with the result as I am.

Some of the vocabulary used by Charivarius / ʃaːriˈvaːrijəs / in his poem is obsolete. Likewise, the pronunciation of certain words has changed over time and is no longer current. I have, however, retained the original pronunciation to keep the rhyme of the lines intact. To help students fully understand the poem, I have created a comprehensive dictionary of all of the unusual words in the poem. There is also a Vocabulary Activator in the pack which will test your knowledge of the vocabulary. The Chaos - The Absurdity of English Spelling and Pronunciation

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