By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times
English is an evil language. Ask any Balinese person who, living on this small island that serves as a tourist crossroads of the world, has to distinguish different forms of English from tourists from different countries who have different accents, vocabulary and slang.
I asked some of my Balinese friends what it is that makes English so hard to master. Below I have recorded their responses and at the same time have tried to answer some of their questions about the language. As I studied English at university, I have tried to explain the history of the English language and what led it to becoming so evil and difficult to learn. I should stress, however, that university was a long time ago and my memory may not be entirely accurate.
There are so many different accents in English. Canâ€™t you people decide on one accent and just stay with it?
The English language was invented in England, which is where the term â€œthe Queenâ€™s Englishâ€ comes from. The English language belongs to the Queen and she holds the copyright in England. Many people agree that the only correct pronunciation is British English. The only people who disagree are those from North America, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or anywhere where people donâ€™t speak the Queenâ€™s English.
Unlike Indonesian, why doesnâ€™t the alphabet reflect the true pronunciation of English?
Whereas Indonesian was invented recently (1928), the English language has been around for donkeyâ€™s years. As a result, it has gone through great changes over the years, such as The Great Vowel Shift, and many other important, but terribly boring events that have rendered English practically incomprehensible. If you are learning English as a second language, you may be interested in joining a group called â€œVictims of The Great Vowel Shift,â€ who have been trying to apply Darwinâ€™s theory of survival of the fittest to the English language in order to do away with useless silent eâ€™s, and iâ€™s before eâ€™s.
English has so many tenses. For example, why do we have to say â€œI have never been to England?â€ Why canâ€™t we just say, â€œI no go England yet?â€ Itâ€™s so much simpler!
Donâ€™t be so paranoid. You can say it that way and people will understand you (round of applause). According to the Theory of Communicative Competence in language learning, â€œI no go England yet,â€ although grammatically incorrect, is correct as long as the other person understands you. Unless youâ€™re taking the TOEFL Test or any other English competency test. Oh, or if youâ€™re taking classes at English First or any other English-language school. Or if youâ€™re traveling abroad. But in Bali, no proplem, same-same, okay!
Iâ€™ve never understood how to use would be, could be and should be.
You have to realize that the English language was invented by Englandâ€™s Defense Department as a secret code to keep important information from spies. Therefore, confusing grammar was adopted such as, â€œI could be wrong, but I think we should have launched that attack while we could have. I shouldnâ€™t have wanted to wait so long, would you?â€ That way foreigners, no matter how much they had studied English, would immediately retreat screaming, â€œNo, not would be, could be, should be! Letâ€™s get out of here!â€
English has those pesky articles â€œaâ€ and â€œthe.â€
The indefinite article â€œaâ€ and definite article â€œtheâ€ were not originally in the English language and were inserted only later to make the English language as difficult as possible for foreigners to learn. There are general rules that tell you which to use in what circumstance, but even then, there are so many exceptions, itâ€™s hard to get them right all the time if youâ€™re not a native speaker. Rebel language learners just omit â€œaâ€ and â€œtheâ€ from their speech.
Asian languages donâ€™t use singular and plural, so why do you think you need them in English?
If we wanted English to be an easy language, we would have thrown out singulars and plurals long ago. Heck, we would have thrown out the entire language and replaced it with something far simpler, such as Esperanto. But as every teacher of English will tell you, there is something very valuable (no one knows exactly what) in having to write a sentence all over again to reflect the change of the subject from singular to plural.
English has many difficult sounds, such as r, b and th.
These difficult sounds were put in the English language to help distinguish native speakers from nonnative speakers. Again, itâ€™s that spy thing. You never know who is out to get you linguistically.
English has the unconditional â€œit.â€ Whereas we just say â€œhujan (rain),â€ you say, â€œItâ€™s raining.â€ What does â€œitâ€ mean?
No one really knows. â€œItâ€ is just a fact of English life.
Writing is hard because I can never remember the spelling rules, such as â€œi before e except after d.â€ Or was it, â€œi before e except after he?â€
The rule is: â€œi before e except after c and except in words like weigh and neigh.â€ Heigh, itâ€™s not so hard!
But I suppose the biggest evil of the English language is, quite simply, that everyone needs it.
Amy Chavez, who has never had writerâ€™s, readerâ€™s or speakerâ€™s block, is at email@example.com.Filed under: Arts & Entertainment