Here are four famous writers. They all had different styles and wrote about different subjects, but all four were brilliant writers. You have probably enjoyed the work of at least two of them. Really serious readers will be familiar with all of them.
So what do they all have in common?
Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach
Jack Kerouac, journalist, Beat writer, author of On the Road and The Dharma Bums
Joseph Conrad, one of the masters of English prose, author of Heart of Darkness
Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita and Pale Fire
Answer. None of these four authors was born into an English speaking family.
Roald Dahl (1916–1990) was born in Wales to Norwegian parents and spoke Norwegian at home. Referred to by The Independent as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century,” he learned English at a series of English boarding schools and became a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was born as Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac into a French Canadian family and spoke French at home. He was not completely at home with English until he was a teenager. Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs are considered to be the fathers of the Beat Generation.
Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) was born as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski to a Polish family living in Kiev, Russian Empire (now Ukraine). Often considered to be one of the greatest of all English novelists, he perfected his English as a sailor during 16 years at sea on British ships.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899–1977) was born in St. Petersburg into an affluent Russian family and learned English and French as well as Russian when he was a child. His first nine novels were in Russian, but his best work was in English. He was also a lepidopterist (expert on butterflies).
There are thousands of people who live on six continents who tackled English, a supposedly difficult language, and mastered it. They can speak English (sometimes, like Conrad, with an accent) and write English as competently as they handle their mother tongues.
At the same time, there are people all across the English-speaking world who claim that correct English grammar, punctuation, and spelling are too difficult. Instead of putting in the effort required to master their mother tongue, they prefer to be semi-literate or even illiterate.
Abraham Lincoln had less than a year of actual schooling He educated himself, and yet his grasp of the English language was extraordinary. The next time your child complains about his or her English homework, you can talk about these famous authors.
Did that get your attention? It ought to because hundreds of commonly used English words end with the SHUN sound. Now for the fun part. Believe it or not, there are ten different ways to spell that sound.
Take a look at “fraction”, “convulsion”, “expression”, “magician”, “Dalmatian”, “Asian”, “crucifixion”, “suspicion”, “fashion”, and “ocean”.
We have tion, sion, ssion, cian, tian, sian, xion, cion, shion, and cean. All of which sound more or less like “shun”. But surprise! surprise! – there is only one commonly used word that is actually spelled “shun”. That word is “shun”.
Confused? Just remember that the most common “shun” ending is the “tion” spelling. Next is the “sion” spelling which is actually a variation of “tion”.
When I went to school in England, many decades ago, we had to differentiate the sounds when we pronounced the words. That meant that the “on’ ending had to sound different from the “an’ ending. Today the ten “shuns” all sound the same. That’s progress?
There are about fifty words that end in “cian”, which is an ending reserved for people who do something and have a trade, skill, or profession. Examples are “politician”, “diagnostician”, “physician”, “beautician”, and “electrician”. So…should I call myself a writician?
These endings are all explained in Chapter 39 of The Complete Guide to English Spelling Rules.
Double consonants are a major nuisance in English spelling. Most of them are quite unnecessary (unecesary?). I would like to see them all done away with.
But there is one double consonant that the English will cling to. This is the double L. Over on the other side of the pond, they insist that the L has to be doubled before a vowel suffix. Unfortunately, the rule states that the accent must be on the preceding vowel. With “traveller,” the accent is on the A syllable, not the first E syllable, so that extra L is not needed. But in England they seem to want that L anyway.
This double L can also be seen in words such as “woollen,” “chilli,” “cancelled,” and “modelling,” all of which really only need a single L. But let us in the States not boast about our superior spelling.
For some weird and wacky reason, most American dictionaries spell half a dozen words with a double L whereas the English spell them with just one L. Examples are “willful/wilful,” “skillful/skilful,” “fulfill/fulfil,” “enroll/enrol,” “install/instal,” “distill/distil,” and “instill/instil.” Where these words are concerned, the English are correct.
So what do we do with this Ell-ish shambles? Less is more! Don’t waste time and ink on redundant letters. Both American and English dictionaries agree that “beautiful,” ”useful,” “always,” “handful,” “almighty,” “already,” “altogether,” “welcome,” “fulsome, ” “thoughtful,” and “welfare” are correctly spelled without an extra L. So the precedent has been set and all those double L words will eventually lose that extra L.
When in doubt or if you have a choice, use just one L. Welcome and farewel, trave
I have been to Turkey a couple of times. It’s a fascinating country and the locals are friendly. Unfortunately, the language is not.
Turkish has no connection whatever to the Romance or Germanic languages so it is impossible to guess at the meanings of any Turkish words. However, the Turks have incorporated many foreign words into their language and they spell them phonetically.
At hotels and shops I had no trouble with kredi karti. Similarly bagaj and turizm did not stump me. Nor did cafeterya or bufe stop me from eating. And some words such as hijyenik and elektrik were just as easy as fotokopi.
I guessed that a pansyon was a cheap otel but I was stuck for a while with asensor until the bell boy pointed at it. He looked at me as if I had never seen an elevator before.
Out on the open road I soon learned about gaz and petrol and dizel and I had no problem with the traffic polis or the ambulans and never had trouble with the jandarma. Taksi was fairly obvious as were seramic and porselin in the tourist shops but there was one word that took a while to sink in.
Some guy named Oto seemed to be very popular. He was everywhere. It wasn’t until I saw otomatik and otomotiv that the penny dropped.
Weekly English Tips Blogs parallel his book The Complete Guide to English Spelling Rules. Plus interesting background about how English evolved.
Author, English Professor and world traveler.