Jack is very upset about this…
By Jack Archambault
This past week, the Fordham student body did something that was at once surprisingly inspiring, slightly pathetic, and painfully thirsty. After reaching the finals of a Tinder “swipe-off” to win a concert with Juice WRLD and Charlie XCX, we did the impossible and actually won something.
Depending on who you are and your stance on Tinder and today’s music, this news may have been met with great excitement. On the other hand, some may have seen it as the pronunciation of the death of Fordham students’ sense of self-respect, because while winning a contest is cool, winning because you have the highest percentage of Tinder swipes is, to be completely honest, just a smidge pitiable.
But I was struck by the way Juice WRLD chooses to spell the back half of his name. W-R-L-D. Despite the lack of the letter ‘o’, it is pronounced “world”. Obviously, we can all infer that this would be how you’d pronounce his name. So, if we all know what he’s trying to say, why even use vowels at all? How important are vowels, really?
Anyone who has ever seen The Office will remember the episode titled “The Incentive”, in which Kevin Malone decides to save time by using fewer words when he speaks, reasoning, “Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick?”
It’s an interesting tactic, and one that our own president tried recently when he referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple”. Trump’s reasoning was quite similar to Kevin’s, as he tweeted, “I quickly referred to Tim + Apple as Tim/Apple as an easy way to save time & words.”
But since we can all get the gist of what Kevin, and Trump for that matter, are trying to say, let’s think about what would happen if instead of removing unnecessary words, we followed Juice WRLD’s example and got rid of those pesky vowels. Or rather, lt’s thnk abt wht wld hppn f w splld wrds wtht vwls.
The phonetic definition of a vowel is “a sound produced with an open vocal tract”. This is in contrast to consonants, which have a closure at some point along the vocal tract.
Linguists say there are currently around 6,600 spoken languages in the world. In nearly all of these languages, all words contain vowel sounds. These sounds, however, are sometimes implied and not written out.
Take Semitic languages for instance. Originating in the near east, these are some of the oldest languages in the world and include Hebrew and Arabic. Semitic languages use root sets of consonants that typically come in threes and make what is know as a triliteral root. In Arabic, for example, the root ‘k-l-m’ means “to talk or converse”, and from this root words are formed by filling in vowels, so that the word “kalima” means “word”. A fluent speaker knows which vowels are needed based on context. S lt’s tr th sm thng fr nglsh.
Did you get that? If you understood that as, “So let’s try the same thing for English,” you would be well-suited to live in the post-vowel America Juice WRLD certainly dreams lucidly about. But while it is difficult to imagine an English language devoid of vowels, English has a rather interesting history with vowels as well.
The English language can be divided into three general stages, Old English (~ 5th century to 11th century), Middle English (~11th century to late 15th century), and Modern English. Studies of Old and Middle English are somewhat speculative since they are preserved only as written languages, but we do know that between 1350 and the 17th/18th centuries, there was an event known as the “Great Vowel Shift”.
Beginning in southern England, the shift affected all dialects of the language and resulted in a change in the pronunciation of all Middle English long vowels (vowels that sound the same as their letter name). For example, the letter ‘i’ was pronounced as ‘ee’, which morphed into ‘ai’ as in ‘maid’, and eventually became the sound we know today. Through this shift, some consonants changed their pronunciation as well, particularly those that are now silent, and it is also the main reason why some English spellings are markedly different than their pronunciations.
While there is no scholarly consensus on the cause of the shift, one common theory is that as the Black Death caused the emigration of many people to southeast England, their accents mixed and created new pronunciations. Another theory suggests that English nobility began to speak English rather than French at this time, and they changed certain pronunciations to distance themselves from the French.
Whatever the cause was, remain vigilant now. What begins with Juice WRLD removing the ‘o’ from his name could end up as the next Great Vowel Shift. And the last thing we need is another unnecessary sequel.