When I was afraid I was allergic to our lovely calico cat, Zoe, I went to the local allergy clinic to find out. Some 120 pin-pricks later, the doctor told me I wasn’t allergic to cat dander or anything else. I do have some allergies, though, that pin-pricks can’t detect. For example, unphonetic words make me sick. I go into a negative alternate state when I discover a word, especially a foreign one in a language I’m learning, that doesn’t sound like the way it’s spelled.
Having cut my foreign-language chops on Spanish and German, two phonetic languages, imagine my horror when a Danish friend corrected my pronunciation for their word for “too” or “very.” It’s spelled meget, so as a decent German speaker, I had been saying “Meg-get.” “What are you trying to say, Reynold?” He asked me in perfect English. “You know, your word for “very.” Oh!” He replied. “What you mean to say is MAHL, like the Austrian composer, Mahler.” Oy! I thought, with metaphorical rashes starting to appear. “Well,” he explained, “you English speakers have no grounds to complain. Sometimes you say THUH and sometimes THEE for ‘the,” and there’s the matter of your ‘-ough’ words that we foreigners struggle to learn like ‘through,’ ‘though,’ and ‘enough.’ They’re all spelled with the same ‘-ough,’ yet each is pronounced differently.” So much for phonetical spelling, I concluded, and my mental rash began to subside.
Even such difficult languages for foreigners as Japanese and Chinese have phonetic versions in our alphabet, Romaji and Pinyin, respectively. And Indonesian (Malay), one of the most spoken languages in the world, also written in our alphabet, is perfectly phonetic. Of the four major Romance languages, Spanish, as mentioned above, and Italian are phonetic. Portuguese, both the European and the Brazilian version, not so much. Speakers of the former, for example, will say “Fernandsch” for the common surname Fernandes, while speakers of the latter pronounce noite (night) “noy-che.” Go figure!
The moral of the story is that in languages as in life, what you see is not always what you get. So, stop, look, listen, and learn. The second moral is that rules frequently come with exceptions. So be careful. Even if the doc says you have no allergies, something may still cause you to sneeze.