Many years ago when my daughter was just three years old and hadn’t started school yet, I thought it would be fun to teach her Armenian at home. Merely the basics, starting with the alphabet, and then why not spelling and some grammar too, since she would be attending an International school where she would be learning English and French only. So every day I would sit with her for about an hour reading from books that I had bought during our trips to Lebanon.
Like any normal child, my daughter also was interested in books at a very young age, so I assumed that reading and teaching her the basics of a language would be easy. She had a poster of the alphabet which we would lay on the table while we read a book. Now I know my language and grammar, I can write effortlessly and with correct spelling and grammar anytime anywhere. But ask me to explain the rules and I am hesitant and don’t know how to, specially when the one asking is a child.
I don’t know if you have seen the Armenian alphabet, but it has 38 letters, the letters ‘p’ and ‘t’ and ‘v’ can be written in two different ways, just to give an example. I would start to read and at almost every word she would stop me to ask ‘why use this ‘p’, or ‘t’ or ‘v’ and not the other?’ How can I explain to a three year old something which I just inherently know? I would hesitate and the only answer that I could come up with would be ‘because that’s the rule’. She would complain and say that it’s complicated but we would continue to read anyway. Then she would ask if English was this complicated also.
And I would think and tell her wait until you’re older and can read Richard Lederer who says:
“If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn’t the plural of booth be beeth? One goose, two geese- so one moose, two meese? If people ring a bell today and rang a bell yesterday, why don’t we say that they flang a ball? If they wrote a letter, perhaps they also bote their tongue. If the teacher taught, why isn’t it also true that the preacher praught? Why is it that the sun shone yesterday while I shined my shoes, that I treaded water and then trod on the beach, and that I flew out to a World Series game in which my favorite player flied out?
If button and unbutton and tie and untie are opposites, why are loosen and unloosen and ravel and unravel the same? If bad is the opposite of good, hard the opposite of soft, and up the opposite of down, why are badly and goodly, hardly and softly, and upright and downright not opposing pairs?
A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings. But fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, hammers don’t ham, humdingers don’t humding, ushers don’t ush, and haberdashers do not haberdash.
Why is it that when the sun or the moon or the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible, that when I clip a coupon from a newspaper I separate it, but when I clip a coupon to a newspaper, I fasten it; and that when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this column, I end it?”