A poem about the chaos of English pronunciation!
This is a fun poem about the chaos of the English language, but you’ll want to pull your hair out in frustration by the end of it! Don’t worry about understanding the poem – there is no meaning! It’s just a fun collection of many of the ridiculous irregularities of English spelling! Just listen to the pronunciation. Most native speakers would have difficulty pronouncing all these words, so don’t worry if you find it difficult.
Here is what the author wrote about this poem in his book:
“In Appendix III I offer the reader a small collection of phonetical paradoxes. I gave it the form of a “poem,” so that rhyme and rhythm might have a soothing effect on the bewildered learner, and lead him into the right path, the former in many cases indicating sound, the latter stress. Thus even-Stephen, senator-spectator. The last line contains an advice; my advice is – don’t take it.”
The only person who can pronounce this poem perfectly is the author himself.
Some of these words are old and are no longer used. A lot of research is necessary to find the correct pronunciation of many of these words.There are many words with more than one pronunciation (bade, via, clangour, mauve, plait, wont, aye, topsail, neither, leisure, hygienic, Boleyn, groats, tarry, parry, Gaelic, grimace, hough, does)
There are many different versions of this poem. This poem was first published as an appendix to the book Drop your foreign accent by Gerard Nolst Trenité. It was a book of pronunciation exercises for students learning British pronunciation. The book was first published in 1909. The Chaos first appeared in the 1920 edition. With each successive edition of the book, the poem was expanded. The most complete version can be found on the website of The English Spelling Society. That version is 274 lines.
This 1932 edition of the book is from the Metro Toronto Reference Library (you can see photocopies of it on the website http://www.englishteachermelanie.com This is the version of the poem that is read here. Large parts of the poem have been cut out. There are a lot of old words & names of places in England that most have never heard and can’t be pronounced. This poem goes on for 8 pages & almost 250 lines …
“I am Canadian. My accent and grammar are American, but sometimes my spelling is British.”