By Nury Vittachi
The Hong Kong Government is reintroducing English-medium teaching to hundreds of schools. Every place I've lived in, including Sri Lanka and Malaysia, has regular heated debates on whether Asian kids should be taught in English.
The problem is this: English is the world's most useful language, but also the most idiotic.
This becomes clear whenever I try to correct my youngest daughter's spelling. “Knee starts with k,” I say. “And right has a g in the middle.”
“Why?” she replies. “That is SO dumb.”
Why? I had to agree with her. It is so dumb.
A bit of research showed that the finest brains in history agreed, too. Nineteenth century playwright George Bernard Shaw tried for years to force people to spell words as they sounded.
He would have thoroughly approved of my daughter, who does this all the time.
“Dea Dad. Pliz bi me a pakit of grin tinsul bcoz we nid it for kwyer on tyuz da,” said a reminder note she wrote for me once. That was an easy one.
Some are a little harder. She wrote an extra-long Christmas list which took half an hour to work out. (I decided to translate it to save Santa the job.) She wanted:
Bah bee stuf;
A gam boy;
Rola bladz with nee padz and Lbo padz;
And so on.
I was moaning about this at a gathering of elite intellectuals, okay, a bar, when a guy told me that the answer was for all of us to switch to speaking Bulgarian.
This is not as odd an idea as it seems. Bulgarian is apparently the only language in the world where everything is written EXACTLY as it sounds. As a result, speakers can learn to read and write in minutes.
"Make a bulk order of Teach Yourself Bulgarian and you can instantly create a multi-lingual family," he said.
Because I am prudent ("stingy") when it comes to spending money, I did a bit more research. I discovered that the vocabulary appears to cater exclusively for Bulgarian interests, which consists of consuming vinegar bean soup and becoming madly intoxicated on Bulgarian spirits. Not a lot of call for this in my daughter’s social circles. Maybe when she reaches her teens.
Someone else suggested we learn Lojban. This is a phonetic language using words drawn equally from six of the world’s biggest languages: English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi and Russian. The creators have published books and articles in the language.
Unfortunately no one can read them. We can all read the odd word here and there (they use "mi" for "me" for example) but no one can read a whole sentence.
Surely somebody somewhere must be doing something to make the English language less ludicrous? Is there no worldwide movement to fix it?
I sat down at the computer to do some research. But my older daughter had left her “instant message” function on the screen, and I started to get lots of messages from her friends in little boxes mid-screen.
“R U home?” said one.
“Hav u dun yr math hmwk?” said another.
“Any1 logd on?” said a third.
Yes. There it was. Internet slang: unimaginably vast amounts of text, and almost every word was written in clear, simple, phonetic English.
George Bernard Shaw would have loved it.