English

Pronouncing English

Not only for foreigns speakers, it is impossible to guess the correct pronounciation (i.e. a pronounciation that is considered correct by a group of native speakers) of a given English word just by its spelling. This is a fact and if you don't believe me read the following poem by Gerard Nolst Trenitéout loud:

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

And if you have no clue how to pronounce some of the words, take advise from this video: 

Linguistics: Speech Accent Archive

Great source!

Everyone who speaks a language, speaks it with an accent. A particular accent essentially reflects a person's linguistic background. When people listen to someone speak with a different accent from their own, they notice the difference, and they may even make certain biased social judgments about the speaker.

The speech accent archive is established to uniformly exhibit a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds. 

Speech Accent Archive

Lions, cats, buffaloes, flies and orang-utans

Natural languaes (and some planned languages as well) bring forth strange flowers from time to time. For example, in many languages there exist sentences that are built of the same word or syllable all over. Let's call it a "repetion play" and take a closer look:

Chinese

The following is a Chinese poem that tells the story of a poet who is craving for lion flesh while living in a cavern. This is an incredible example of those repetition plays and only possible due to the Chinese distinguishment of word by tone pitch. The following table shows the poem in Traditional Chinese, in Pinyin transliteration and as a translation, on the Wikipedia page you can also hear a native speaker reading it out.

《施氏食獅史》

石室詩士施氏,嗜獅,誓食十獅。

氏時時適市視獅。

十時,適十獅適市。

是時,適施氏適市。

氏視是十獅,恃矢勢,使是十獅逝世。

氏拾是十獅屍,適石室。

石室濕,氏使侍拭石室。

石室拭,氏始試食是十獅。

食時,始識是十獅屍,實十石獅屍。

試釋是事。

« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.

Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.

Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.

Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.

Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.

Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.

Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.

Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.

Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.

Shì shì shì shì.

« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »

In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.

He often went to the market to look for lions.

At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.

At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.

He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.

He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.

The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.

After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.

When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.

Try to explain this matter.

Japanese

In contrast, the Japanese example works not due to same syllables with different pitch but with different ways to read the same Kanji . There is a story around this sentence and the scholar Ono no Takamura meeting the emperor Saga Tennō. Here you can see the sentence as a seemingly meaningless repetition of the Kanji, the way to pronounce it correctly next to the way to write it normally as well as the translation.

子子子子子子子子子子子子 neko no ko no koneko, shishi no ko no kojishi (猫の子の子猫、獅子の子の子獅子) The young of cat, kitten, and the young of lion, cub.

English

My favorite blog on nerdy things io9 came up with this some days ago with the english-centric title The most confusing sentence in the world uses just one word. But I have to admit: It is really confusing. Here, neither graphemes nor sounds are the source of confusion, but classical homonymy, i.e. the same word bears several meanings. This special sentence has its own website hosted by its inventor, linguist William J. Rapaport from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a complete history, many examples and discussions. Here you see the sentence, a (shortened) parse tree visualization of its parts of speech and a "translation" to understand the somewhat constructed meaning.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree.svg Buffalo who live in Buffalo, and who are buffaloed (in a way unique to Buffalo) by other buffalo from Buffalo, themselves buffalo (in the way unique to Buffalo) still other buffalo from Buffalo.

German

In most cases, German needs a small introduction in order to get a repetition play working, as in "Wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach." which means thas flies flying behind other flies are flying behind other flies. But I have also found an example that comes without other words and makes also use of the homonymy. The content, however, is even weirder than in the English example...

Weichen Weichen weichen Weichen, weichen Weichen weichen Weichen Weichen [V] Weichen [S] weichen [Adj] Weichen [S], weichen [V] Weichen [S] weichen [Adj] Weichen [S]. If switch points avoid soft switch points, than  switch points avoid soft switch points.

I invented such a repetition play by myself. It is based on the nesting of clauses and the use of similar light verbs, so it is a bit different from the others:

Der Mann, der die Aufsicht über den Bau der Brücke, die über den Fluss, der stets kaltes Wasser führte, führte, führte, führte ein aufregendes Leben. [Aufsicht führen], [über einen Fluss führen], [kaltes Wasser führen], [ein aufregendes Leben führen] The man, who leads the construction of the bridge that is going over the river that conducts cold water, has an exciting life.

Ook!

Ook! is a so called esoteric programming language and is a derivate of another one called (rightly) brainfuck. As programming languages can be understand as planned languages and as Ook! was designed in order to be understood at least by orang-utans I think it is only fair to consider it here. I present an example code to write the famous "Hello World" program next to the basic programming cocepts and the omitted output:

Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook.
  • Ook. Ook?
    Move the Memory Pointer to the next array cell.
  • Ook? Ook.
    Move the Memory Pointer to the previous array cell.
  • Ook. Ook.
    Increment the array cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook! Ook!
    Decrement the array cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook. Ook!
    Read a character from STDIN and put its ASCII value into the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook! Ook.
    Print the character with ASCII value equal to the value in the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook! Ook?
    Move to the command following the matching Ook? Ook! if the value in the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer is zero. Note that Ook! Ook? and Ook? Ook! commands nest like pairs of parentheses, and matching pairs are defined in the same way as for parentheses.
  • Ook? Ook!
    Move to the command following the matching Ook! Ook? if the value in the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer is non-zero.
Hello World

One question remains: Why are so many animals involved in this...?

Image Credits:
"Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree" by Johndburger (SVG by King of Hearts) - w:Image:Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree.png. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Examples:

Almost all examples are extracted from Wikipedia and I have placed the respective links in the text before.

English Word and Letter Frequency

perhaps your group at Google might be interested in using the computing power that is now available to significantly expand and produce such tables as I constructed some 50 years ago, but now using the Google Corpus Data, not the tiny 20,000 word sample that I used.

English Letter Frequency Counts: Mayzner Revisited or ETAOIN SRHLDCU