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A child’s curiosity about the sounds of English

I remember asking myself one night why my parents seemed to say DROING ROOM when there were no other similar sounding words. There was paint, point, pint, pound, pint, pond, but no POING or POINK. I was in a particular room, my bed room at the time. It didn’t occur to me to ask my parents who might have told me that in the days of my grandmother who had largely designed the house it was the custom for men and women to separate after dinner. And one group would go to the withdrawing room. My father remembered that quaint custom from his childhood. It would have been followed when his father had organised a party for some people about to embark on the Titanic, When my father, then five and a half, asked about them a week later he was told: They’re all dead. He was troubled by that memory all his life. Because I remember where I was when I had that thought about DROING I know that I cannot have been older than eight. My bed room was changed when I was nine. I had only started learning to read very shortly before then. If I was reading at all, it was only word by word, one letter at a time. I rather think that that curiosity about the apparent anomaly of DROING was probably my first thought about linguistics.

Published on July 28, 2022