orthos (right) + graphein (to write)

June 10, 2014

ortografia

I have always had to be very careful about spelling because it never came easily to me. I therefore probably don’t commit as many spelling errors as I would if I were more confident. When I started to learn foreign languages, Latin helped with much of English by making it clearer why we had certain spellings. French wasn’t much of a problem, because, in the places where the words were cognate with English, the differences from English tended to follow a predictable pattern. But one of my biggest problems has always been double consonants and where to use them and where not to. So comes along Spanish, which is one of the two languages dominant in my current environment, where instances of double consonants in English (and Latin and French) are mostly replaced by singles. Take a word like assembly, for example (not an English word that I have trouble with, but an example that comes to mind). It follows the easy pattern in the assemblée of the French but becomes a different-looking animal in the Castilian asamblea. This of course does nothing to make me confident of the double-S in Catalan assemblea, which nevertheless follows nicely from the French but does nothing to help with the Spanish, which also throws in a rogue vowel in asamblea — which now looks funnier to me the more I contemplate it.

Another vexed issue for me is when to use -cion and when -tion in English. The slightest exposure to either Catalan and Castilian makes this malady terminal.

This short orthographical effusion comes about because, a few minutes ago, I tried to type the work pharmacy in an English-language e-mail, but spell-check kept coughing it up. Why? Because I was beginning it with an F — which meant that I wouldn’t even have been able to find it in a dictionary. It took a few seconds for me to remember our old Greek-immigrant friend PH. I had been completely brainwashed by Catalan farmàcia and Castilian farmacia (and don’t get me started on the difference that accent/lack-of-accent makes in those two neighboring tongues); and a couple of years of studying German in college (in which PH is replaced by F) didn’t help there, either.

Also, don’t think, when typing the previous paragraph in this context, that the spelling of the word coughing, with its GH for the F-sound, came to mind with ideal speed!

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