American composer, writer, director, and filmmaker Aaron Alon explains the difficulty of learning the English language, specifically in regard to the vastly different ways vowels are pronounced. To show what it would be like if each vowel had a single phonetic voicing, Alon recited the various sounds of a vowel, then chose the first pronunciation as the standard going forward. As he moved to the next vowel, he employed the standard of the vowel that came before. He repeated this step over and again for each vowel until the language became slightly unfamiliar and seemingly forced a European accent of some sort.
He then performed a beautiful, oft-quoted soliloquy from the Shakespeare comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” using these same specific rules. It sounded beautiful, but the feeling, texture, and inflection that are normally created with varied vowel voicings were noticeably absent in the recitation.
Consider the following sentence. The same letter combination ‘ough’ appears repeatedly throughout the sentence but the sounds are different every time: ‘Though I coughed roughly and hiccoughed throughout the lecture I still thought I could plough through the rest of it.’ This incredible inconsistency can make English really hard to master for non-native speakers. But what if English were phonetically consistent?